Pope Francis said Thursday he is willing to create a commission to study whether women can be deacons in the Catholic Church, signaling openness to letting women serve in ordained ministry currently reserved to men. Francis agreed to a proposal to create an official study commission during a closed-door meeting with some 900 superiors of women’s religious orders in Rome for their triennial assembly.

Deacons are ordained ministers but are not priests, though they can perform many of the same functions as priests: preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and preach. They cannot, however, celebrate Mass. Currently, married men — who are also mostly excluded from the Roman Catholic priesthood — can serve as deacons. Women cannot, though historians say women served as deacons in the early Church. READ MORE