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The commission is made up of seven men and six women. Francis made it clear however that he did not see women becoming priests
Pope Francis has appointed a special commission to examine the role of female deacons in the Catholic Church, in a potentially historic opening on the possibility of women joining the clergy.
The 13-member commission, made up of seven men and six women, will study the question of female deacons with a particular focus on the history of women having played this role in the early years of the Church, the Vatican said in a statement.
"After intense prayer and mature reflection, Pope Francis has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women," the statement said.
"THERE IS NOT THEOLOGICAL OBSTACLE TO THE MOVE"
Advocates of women serving as deacons have long argued that they are pitifully under-represented in the Church's hierarchy and decision-making processes.
Allowing women to enter the clergy at a rank just below a priest would represent a first step towards correcting this imbalance, they argue.They also insist there is no theological obstacle to the move because of the precedent established by women performing the role in the early centuries of Christianity.
The move follows a pledge made by the Pope in May during a question-and-answer session with members of female religious orders in which he said a commission would study the possibility of women entering the Catholic clergy.
"I believe, yes, it would do good for the Church to clarify this point," he said at the time."I am in agreement. I will speak [in favour of doing] something like this."
He made it clear however that he did not see women becoming priests, an option that was categorically rejected by one of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II, following a 1994 study.
The Vatican did not set a date for the commission to begin work or a deadline for it to reach conclusions.