Pope Francis just announced on Thursday that he would set up a panel to review whether women could serve as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church, a move that purports to enhance females' role and end the male monopoly in the clergy.
The motion came after a meeting of the International Union of Superiors General at the Vatican on Thursday, when a nun pressed the pope to address larger roles for women in the church and asked him why they couldn’t preside over mass or be ordained as deacons.
Pope Francis responded by saying he had discussed the matter of deaconesses with a professor a year ago but could not come to a satisfactory solution.
“What were these female deacons? Did they have ordination or no? It was a bit obscure,” said the pope, thinking out loud. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”
His remarks show a willingness to re-analyze the church’s long held tradition of an all-male clergy. It’s a given that the idea will face stiff resistance from some Catholics. A conservative priest tweeted after the announcement:
The priest referred to the 2002 study where a similar idea was once put forward to the church, but was later rejected after the investigation reached no clear conclusions.
Soon after Pope Francis was elected in 2013, people thought he would revisit the idea of a female clergy. But while the pope’s rhetoric has always called for women to have a more active part in the church’s leadership, he has not done much to further the cause.
It can be argued that even though the special commission might open doors for the ordination of women deacons, such a move will be seen as a stepping stone to full priesthood, and hence would be controversial among many members of the church, who believe women priests are against “in persona Christi.”