VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is tamping down any expectations that Pope Francis is about to let women serve as deacons in the Catholic Church anytime soon.
Francis made headlines Thursday when he told a closed-door meeting of some 800 superiors of women's religious orders that he agreed with their proposal to create a commission to study the issue. He was responding to a question about what was impeding women today from serving as deacons, who aren't priests but perform many of the same functions as priests, such as presiding over baptisms, marriages and funerals.
Francis replied that he understood that women deacons in the ancient church weren't ordained, as male deacons are today, and he reaffirmed that women regardless cannot deliver homilies during Mass. But he agreed to set up a commission to study the question, especially the role of women deacons in the ancient church.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio on Friday that the pope "didn't say he had any intention of introducing diaconal ordination for women, much less priestly ordination for women."
Another top Vatican official, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, tweeted that Francis had called him, surprised by all the ruckus his comments had raised. "He's thinking about a commission. Let's not jump to its conclusions."
Francis has frequently sought to move the church forward on vexing issues by creating study commissions that investigate a particular question and make recommendations that he can then take, use in part or ignore.
Within a month of becoming pope, Francis appointed nine cardinals to advise him on reforming the Vatican administration. He appointed fact-finding commissions to reform the scandal-marred Vatican bank and inefficient Vatican bureaucracy. And recently he concluded a two-year study involving the entire church on ways to better minister to Catholic families.
In each case, he received final reports or recommendations. But sometimes he has then gone his own way, as if using the exercise to inform himself but also as cover to make the gentle developments he wants without rocking the church's foundations.