According to the Wall Street Journal today, Pope Francis said the Vatican would study the possibility of ordaining Catholic women as deacons, as part of the church’s efforts to give a greater leadership role to women.
During a meeting Thursday with leaders of women’s religious orders, the pope—who has frequently lauded the role women play in the church—was asked why the role of permanent deacon was limited to men. The pontiff responded that the Vatican would investigate the possibility of admitting women to the role, without offering further details.
Some have argued that the admission of women to the diaconate could strengthen their role in the church, while also helping to compensate in part for the lack of priests.
But such a move would be controversial among many members of the Catholic Church who see the role as a steppingstone to the priesthood. The church teaches that Jesus established the priesthood as an all-male institution by choosing only men as his apostles.
At his meeting with nuns on Thursday, the pope said a study of the question would examine the early history of a female diaconate.
In March, the Vatican newspaper published essays calling for women to be allowed to preach at Mass. But Pope Francis told nuns on Thursday that such preaching is a function restricted to priests.
The pope has said a number of times that women could take leadership roles in the Vatican itself. In recent days, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin—akin to the pope’s prime minister—said that a woman could potentially fill his role in the future. However, there have been very few high-level female appointments to the Vatican during the current papacy.
In light of Francis' strong left leadership, some think that the move to ordain Catholic women as deacons could happen, and might be a wedge to bring about ordaining women as priests. Liberal Protestantism has largely embraced women's ordination, and such a move by the Vatican could bring them closer to full ecumenical unity.