ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Tuesday that an international commission of scholars has failed to reach a definitive conclusion about whether women were ordained as deacons in the early Christian church in the same way men were.
Francis told reporters returning home from the Balkans that the commission found evidence that female deacons performed functions that included immersion baptisms for women. But he said there was no agreement on whether these women underwent the same sacramental ordination as male deacons.
"It's fundamental that there is no certainty that there was an ordination with the same formula, with the same goal, as the male ordination," Francis said.
The result will likely be a blow to proponents of ordaining female deacons today, as well as the umbrella association of religious sisters which had asked Francis to create a commission to study the issue in 2016.
Francis said nothing Tuesday about how or whether the commission results might influence any decision going forward. He said members of the commission were continuing to study the issue on their own.
Francis is due to meet Friday with the International Union of Superiors General, which had asked Francis to look into the question as a way to give women greater decision-making roles in the church.
Deacons today are ordained ministers, not priests, though they can perform many of the same functions as priests. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and they can preach. They cannot celebrate Mass.
Currently, married men can serve as deacons. Women cannot.
Advocates for expanding the ministry to include women say doing so would provide women with a greater role in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address the effects of the Catholic priest shortage in parts of the world by allowing women to perform some priestly functions.
Opponents say ordaining women to the diaconate would signal the start of a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood. The Catholic Church reserves the priesthood for men, saying Christ chose only men as his 12 apostles. Francis has repeatedly reaffirmed that teaching.