Pope sets up commission to discuss role for women as deacons
Pope Francis has set up a panel to study whether women could serve as deacons, a role now reserved to men.
The Vatican said Pope Francis "after intense prayer and mature reflection" decided to set up the commission, with 12 members - six men and six women - including priests, nuns and laywomen.
It noted that he had told superiors of nuns' orders in May that he intended to "set up an official commission to study the question" of the diaconate for women "above all regarding the early times of the church".
Some historians point out there were female deacons in the early church.
Married men who serve as deacons can preach and preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals. But only priests can celebrate Mass.
There has been no sign from the Vatican that any change on deacons would impact on its strict ban against women being ordained as priests.
Heading the commission is a top official, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, a Jesuit who is the No 2 official at the Congregation of the Faith, the Vatican office entrusted with ensuring doctrinal orthodoxy. Putting the commission under his watch signals the Vatican is intent that whatever the panel concludes will be scrutinised for conformity to church doctrine.
A US-based organisation dedicated to achieving the ordination of women as priests cautiously hailed the development.
The Women's Ordination Conference called the commission "an important step for the Vatican in recognising its own history of honouring women's leadership".