The possibility of ordaining women deacons in the Roman Catholic Church has been raised by a senior Archbishop at the Synod on the Family in Rome.
Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, called on the 270 bishops at the synod to reflect on the possibility of allowing women to be ordained into the first of the three orders of deacon, priest and bishop.
His call came from a recognition of a need for women to have more decision-making authority within church structures and new opportunities in ministry.
Speaking to Catholic News Service, he said, "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."
Deacons can preach and preside at baptisms, funerals and weddings but cannot celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
The Archbishop Durocher used his three-minute allocated slot at the synod to speak on the role of women in the church.
Women's Ordination Worldwide said: "We applaud Archbishop Durocher for raising the suggestion to the exclusively male-voting body, and furthermore, for highlighting the relationship between the degradation of women in Church and society and violence against women around the world.
"We call on our Church leaders to state clearly that domination over women is never acceptable, and until women are empowered as equals our Church perpetuates an inequality contrary to the Gospel. We pray that women's voices will not only be heard in forthcoming discussions, but given an equal vote."
According to the organisation, women in the diaconate would not be something new. "Instead the Church would be returning to its ancient roots when both women and men were deacons. While the women's diaconate continues in some parts of the Eastern Church even until today, we also now know that in the West, it was suppressed only on account of the prejudice against women."
Earlier, Pope Francis warned against having a hard heart that is closed to God's mercy.
Speaking on during Mass at the Casa Santa Marta before joining the Synod Fathers gathered in the Vatican Synod Hall, the Pope urged the faithful not to put their own convictions or a list of commandments before the Lord's mercy.
He said even Jesus had been misunderstood because of his mercy.
He said Jesus lived with doctors of the law who did not understand why he did not let the adulteress be stoned, they did not understand why he dined with publicans and sinners, "they did not understand. They did not understand mercy."