After calls by women for greater decision-making roles in the Church, the pope made the announcement at the end of his three-week assembly discussing issues facing the Amazon region, solutions to a shortage of priests, environmental protection and the role of women.
Francis originally opened a commission to study the possibility of women in the role in 2016, but the commission ended its work without a consensus on the topic. A gathering of 181 bishops voted on 120 recommendations presented to the pope. The recommendation to re-examine female deacons passed the two-thirds vote threshold, 137 in favor and 30 opposed, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Deacons are ordained ministers of the church and can fulfill some, but not all, of the roles a priest may fill. In today's church, they must be men, but unlike priests, they are allowed to marry. Deacons do not celebrate Mass, but they can give the homily, teach in the name of the Church, baptize and conduct weddings, wakes and funeral services.
“We still have not grasped the significance of women in the Church. Their role must go well beyond questions of function,” Francis said, according to Reuters. Francis, however, has said the “door is closed” to the question of women in the role of the priesthood.
Conservatives have argued against the potential of women in the diaconate, saying it is too closely linked to the priesthood which is explicitly reserved for men. The history of women in the role has been debated by scholars. Some say female deacons only ministered to other women, and some say women were fully ordained to perform rites the way male deacons did
A gathering of bishops Saturday also recommended that Francos loosen the celibacy requirement for priests in South America’s Amazon region to address the severe priest shortage. The Roman Catholic Church ordaining married men to the priesthood would break a precedent over 1,000 years old. Of the assembly, 128 members voted in favor of this measure and 41 were opposed.
On Friday at the synod, Francis asked Amazonian bishops and local tribal leaders for forgiveness after indigenous statues were stolen from a Vatican-area church and thrown into a river. The pope insisted the wood-carved statues of naked pregnant women, known as Pachamama, were not a symbol of idolatry as conservatives had claimed, but rather were symbols of life, fertility and Mother Earth.