Pope sets up Vatican panel to study female deacons issue

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Pope Francis attends a visit to the RomeÕs synagogue on January 17, 2016 in Rome, Italy. The visit marks the third time a pontiff has been invited to the synagogue, following on from the visit by Benedict XVI in January 2010 and the historic encounter of Pope John Paul II with former Rabbi Elio Toaff there in 1986. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has set up a panel to study whether women could serve as deacons, a role now reserved to men.

The Vatican said Tuesday Francis “after intense prayer and mature reflection” decided to set up the commission, with 12 members including priests, nuns and laywomen.

It noted in May he told superiors of nuns’ orders he intended to “set up an official commission to study the question” of the diaconate for women “above all regarding the early times of the church.” Some historians say there were female deacons in the early church.

Married men who serve as deacons can preach and preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, but only priests can celebrate Mass.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich issued the following statement:

“Last May, Pope Francis indicated his willingness to appoint a commission to study the subject of women deacons. Today I welcome the news that he has done just that. From the earliest days of the church, women rightly served in key leadership roles. Still, the church must do better. Women deserve to be brought more fully into the decision-making of the church. I look forward to learning more about the work of the commission, composed of an equal number of men and women, as they bring their considerable talents to bear on this important subject in the life of the church.”