Pope Francis has created a commission to study whether women could serve as deacons within the Roman Catholic Church.
News.va, the official news network for the Vatican, announced the commission of seven men and six women on its website:
"After intense prayer and mature reflection, Pope Francis has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women. As president of the Commission, Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ. In addition to Archbishop Ladaria, the commission is composed of six women and six men from academic institutions around the world."
The archbishop leading the commission is a member of the Jesuit order, designated SJ, to which Pope Francis also belongs. Deacons are ordained ministers but rank below priests within the hierarchy of the church.
The announcement comes almost three months after the pope expressed an interest in the issue during a gathering of about 900 leaders of women's religious orders within the church.
As The Two-Way reported in May:
"Referring to early female deacons, the pope told the gathering that 'understanding about their role in the early Church remained unclear,'according to News.va,... It mentions 'ample evidence' that there were female deacons in the early centuries of the church, including one named Phoebe mentioned in the Book of Romans.
"Catholic News Service reports that Francis questioned whether the early female deacons were ordained and suggested that their primary role was assisting with baptizing other women.
"More generally, Francis lamented that the 'integration of women into the life of the Church has been 'very weak," according to the official news service. He said he hoped to see more women in decision-making roles."
The members of the commission are priests and academics, most of whom live in Rome, though one professor, Phyllis Zagano, works at Hofstra University in New York. In 2000, she published the book Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church.