Pope Francis' suggestion that the Catholic Church should study how women could take on a larger role in church leadership could result in women holding the office of deacon, and the suggestion has also triggered debate on females in the priesthood.
Francis was speaking on May 12 to women in the International Union of Superiors General, made up of nuns from different orders from around the world, when he made his remarks, Catholic News Service reported.
Pope Francis told the heads of women's religious orders that he would set up a commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and he also said more can and should be done to involve lay and consecrated women in church decision-making at every level.
He was asked if he would establish "an official commission to study the question" of whether women could be admitted to the diaconate, and responded: "I accept. It would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree."
Andrew Brown, wrote in The Guardian newspaper that Francis "has made many friends outside the Catholic Church and many enemies inside it."
He said, "His latest, throwaway suggestion that women might be ordained deacons will make him thousands of new friends – and even more embittered enemies. For it touches directly on the most neuralgic question in contemporary Catholicism: the constitution of the priesthood."
In his column in Brown wrote that the difficulty for traditionalists is that there were clearly women called "deacons" in the New Testament.
"The arguments against ordaining women priests come down ultimately to the fact that Jesus didn't do it, and neither did the early church," wrote Brown.
"He didn't make women (or anyone) priests; but the early church did recognise men who were doing some of the things that bishops now do, and it did recognise women called deacons. The traditionalist argument is that those women did an entirely different job than what is now meant by the word."
Then the director of the Holy See's Press office, Father Federico Lombardi, issued a statement that seemed intended to clarify what the Pope said.
Lombardi said, "The Pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests."
He noted, "In his reply, the Pope said understanding about the role of female deacons in the early Church remained unclear and agreed with the sisters that it would be useful to set up a Commission to study the question."
Guardian commentator Brown wrote, ""The more the question is discussed, the less convincing the traditional answer becomes. If the commission manages to report before Francis dies, we should see real fireworks."