Pope Francis told an international conference of nuns that he will start a commission to study whether women can serve as deacons in the church.
But it was not clear whether Francis’s off-the-cuff remark meant he wanted to simply study the role of women in the early church, or to consider opening the position to women today to allow them to officiate at weddings, baptisms and funerals.
The National Catholic Reporter and the Catholic News Service first reported that a sister at the conference of the International Union of Superiors General on Thursday asked the pope about women serving as deacons, and that Francis said he would appoint a group to study the issue.
“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” Francis said, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “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.”
Deacons are ordained ministers who can perform baptisms, preach during Mass and officiate at weddings and funerals. Unlike priests, deacons can marry.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says there are currently more than 13,000 deacons in the United States.
Francis reportedly noted during his talk with the nuns in Vatican City on Thursday that in the early centuries of the church, women did serve as deacons. He said he once asked a professor to educate him on the role of those early female deacons — including whether they were ordained. The answer, he said, “was a bit obscure.”
The pope’s words on Thursday immediately generated confusion over what, precisely, he was aiming to do. Senior Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said to the Post that it was not yet clear what the pope’s intentions were. He said Vatican officials will need to more closely examine transcripts of his comments, which Lombardi described as coming in the form of a “spontaneous conversation” with a nun who asked a question at Thursday morning’s meeting.
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SOURCE: Julie Zauzmer and Anthony Faiola
The Washington Post