Pope to consider ordaining women deacons

Pope Francis blesses a woman during a special audience at the Tony GentileTony Gentile/Reuters

The Pope is to consider whether women can be ordained deacons in the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis, addressing a conference of nearly 1000 senior nuns from all over the world, told them he is to set up formal investigation into whether women can be ordained into the first of the three orders of deacon, priest and bishop.

NCR reported his answers to four questions at the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, Pope Francis agreed that it would be helpful to set up a commission that might study the question of women deacons.

He said: "It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this." Later he added: "It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well."

Women deacons would, like male deacons, be able to do most things that priests can do except celebrate the eucharist or hear confession. Married men can be ordained to the diaconate.

All previous Popes have strongly opposed women's ordination. The Church of England, which considers itself part pf the "one, holy, catholic, apostolic church", was criticised by Rome when the General Synod voted to ordain women in 1992.

Pope Francis has often spoken of his desire to see women exercise more leadership in the Church but until now has done little to make this happen. 

The successful Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor is among many women who have been ordained as priests by bishops outside the Church, incurring automatic excommunication as a result. 

Pat Brown of Catholic Women's Ordination, which along with Women's Ordination Worldwide is planning a round table with theologians in Rome in June and days of action and vigils around the world, told Christian Today: "We welcome the challenge from the women religious that brought this about. We are sorry he seems to know so little about the work that has been done in this area already. We welcome the development and hope it will lead to the full equality of women with the sacrament of ordination."