Pope opens to female deacons

Francis says it is a 'possibility for today'

(by Catherine Hornby).
    (ANSA) - Vatican City, May 12 - Pope Francis on Thursday agreed to set up a commission to consider allowing women to serve as deacons, opening the way potentially for a historic move that would end the tradition of a male-only clergy in the Catholic Church.
    A deacon is an ordained minister ranking below a priest in the Church hierarchy. They play a supportive role, dealing with practical issues while higher ministries can focus on spiritual teaching.
    During a question and answer session on Thursday with UISG, the International Union of Superiors General, Francis was asked why women were excluded from the role nowadays even though female deacons existed in the early church.
    Francis responded that women deacons were a "possibility for today" and said he would discuss setting up a commission to clarify what role female deacons had played in the past.
    He said he had spoken about the issue with a professor who had studied the use of female deacons in the first centuries of the Church. He said facts such as whether they were really ordained or not had remained obscure, so a commission could help clarify those questions.
    Deacons can oversee baptisms, witness marriages and perform funeral services, but are not allowed to celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
    The Catholic Church says that women cannot become priests because Jesus Christ chose only men as his disciples. But supporters of a female diaconate and priesthood point to records of the existence of women deacons in the early Church, including references in the apostle Paul's writing to a deaconess called Phoebe who lived in the first century AD.
    Opening the diaconate to women may be strongly opposed by conservatives who could view it as a first step towards allowing women to become priests. Pope Francis has often spoken of the complexities surrounding the role of women in the Church and of the need to increase their presence and influence within its ranks.
    Earlier this year he changed the rules for the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite so that it can also include women.
    However, he has also said that the "door is closed" to women priests.