Pope Francis allows Catholic women to play a greater role in Mass

Pope Francis allows Catholic women to play a greater role in Mass – but says priesthood is still off limits

  • Pope France changed law to allow Catholic women to play bigger role in Mass  
  • However, women are still not allowed to be priests, a role still reserved to men 
  • Head of the Catholic church came under to pressure to allow female deacons 
  • He has created a second commission of experts to study whether women could be deacons, after a first one failed to reach a consensus on the matter

Pope Francis changed church law to explicitly allow Catholic women to play a greater role during Mass, while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests.

Francis amended the law to formalise and institutionalise what is common practice in many parts of the world: that women can read the Gospel and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers.

Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men even though exceptions were made.

Pope Francis has changed the law to allow Catholic women to play a bigger role in Mass but still affirms they cannot be priests. Pictured: The pope leads Epiphany Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the ‘precious contribution’ women make in the church, while emphasising that all baptised Catholics have a role to play in the church’s mission.

But he also noted that doing so further makes a distinction between ‘ordained’ ministries such as the priesthood and diaconate, and ministries open to qualified laity.

The Vatican reserves the priesthood for men.

The change comes as Francis remains under pressure to allow women to be deacons — ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests, such as presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Women are now allowed to read the Gospel and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers as a result of the Pope’s latest changes. Pictured: Pope Francis holding a weekly live streamed Angelus prayer yesterday

Currently, the ministry is reserved for men even though historians say the ministry was performed by women in the early church.

Francis has created a second commission of experts to study whether women could be deacons, after a first one failed to reach a consensus.

Advocates for expanding the diaconate to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages in several parts of the world.

Opponents say allowing it would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood.

Phyllis Zagano, who was a member of the pope’s first study commission, called the changes important given they represent the first time the Vatican has explicitly and through canon law allowed women access to the altar.

Pope Francis has been under pressure to change the law, allowing women to be deacons, and he has set up a second commission to discuss the matter after the first failed to reach a consensus. Pictured: Pope Francis leads a Mass for the Feast of Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Wednesday

She said it was a necessary first step to let women be lectors and perform other ministries on the altar before any official consideration of the diaconate for women.

Lucetta Scaraffia, the former editor of the Vatican’s women magazine, however, called the new changes a ‘double trap’.

She said they merely formalise what is current practice, including at papal Masses, while also making clear that the diaconate is an ‘ordained’ ministry reserved for men.

‘This closes the door on the diaconate for women,’ she said in a phone interview, calling the change ‘a step backward’ for women.

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