Pope Francis has said the Vatican should study the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. The Pope’s call hints on calls that women around the world and particularly in the United States have been asking the church to address over the years.
Pope Francis’s groundbreaking remarks were made as a response to an off -the-cuff question.
The question came from the heads of women’s religious orders, meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday May 12 2016. The women group pressed the Pope for tangible ways through which women can play a larger role in leading the Catholic Church. To date, Francis has praised the “feminine genius” but has not carried through on vague promises to appoint more women to leadership positions. The women group holds.
In a series of pointed directed questions to the pope, the women asked why they can’t preach at Mass or be ordained as deacons.
According to Vatican Radio Pope Francis noted that women can give ‘reflections’ at Catholic worship services, but only priests should preach homilies at Mass because they are acting in the person of Christ, better known as ‘persona Christi’. Church leaders have argued over the years that to prevent women from being ordained as priests, maintaining that Jesus’s disciples were all men.
Tenets of the argument that women should be ordained deacons draw their inspiration from the Bible where St. Paul mentions a woman by name Phoebe, who is said to have served in the early church, possibly as a deaconess.
When asked about Phoebe on Thursday, the Pope said the role of Phoebe and other women wasn’t clear, and he would ask the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to look into it.
It is not yet clear whether the Pope meant that the Vatican will study the role of women deacons in history or the possibility that women could be deacons in the future. Vatican Radio, on its part portrayed the Pope’s remarks as a broad call to set up a commission to study the possibility of reinstating female deacons.
The Women’s Ordination Conference said in a statement that “Opening a commission to study the diaconate for women would be a great step for the Vatican in recognizing its own history”.