Pope Francis has said he is willing to establish a commission to study whether women can become deacons in the Catholic Church. The move signals openness to letting women take part in a currently male-reserved ministry.
The Catholic leader has agreed to a proposal to create an official study commission on the prospect of women serving in higher church positions as deacons, reported Catholic and Italian media on Thursday.
The comments were made during an international meeting of senior nuns at the Vatican on Thursday. He was asked why women were barred from becoming deacons, with one attendee suggesting that he create a commission on the issue.
"I accept. It would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree," Pope Francis was quoted as saying by Italian media.
The Catholic Church has traditionally taught that women are not allowed to become priests because Jesus chose men as his apostles. However, in a section of the Bible, St. Paul mentions an early-Church deaconess named Phoebe. Many liberal Catholics believe this sets a precedent for women to be more involved in the ministry.
During the meeting, Pope Francis mentioned that the deaconesses of the early church were not ordained as they are today. But he said he would ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to investigate previous studies, the Catholic News Service reported.
On Thursday, a picture posted to Pope Francis' Instagram account showed the Catholic leader shaking hands with nuns. The caption read: "Only if our witness is joyful will we attract men and women to Christ."
Although deacons are one step down in the church hierarchy from priests, they are allowed to perform many of the same functions such as preaching and presiding over weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Currently, married men - who are typically excluded from priesthood - can be deacons.
Earlier this year, Francis overturned a tradition that barred women from a foot-washing service during Lent - a move that displeased conservatives but delighted feminist Catholics.
rs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)