Pope changes Church law to enshrine roles for women
Pope Francis, in another step towards greater equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church, on Monday amended his law to formally codify their roles as choir maids, communion distributors and readers in liturgies.
The Pope’s decree formalized practices already common in many countries. But the change in the Code of Canon Law means that conservative bishops will not be able to prevent women in their dioceses from assuming these roles.
The Vatican stressed that the roles were “essentially distinct from the ordained ministry,” and therefore not an automatic precursor to women ever being allowed to become priests.
“This codifies that women are equal to men in these roles and is important because in some cultures women are still considered unclean and cannot be close to the sacred,” said Phyllis Zagano, professor of religion at the University. Hofstra in New York State and former member of a papal commission on women deacons.
In the decree, entitled “Spiritus Domini” (The Spirit of the Lord), Francis says he acted after theological reflection.
In a cover letter, he said he wanted to bring “stability, public recognition” to the women who already hold these positions.
“This change aligns the institutional church with pastoral realities around the world,” said Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for the female priesthood.
Last August, the Pope appointed six women to leadership positions on the council that oversees Vatican finances.
He also appointed women to the positions of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Director of the Vatican Museums, Deputy Director of the Vatican Press Office and Counselor of the Synod of Bishops.
He also established commissions to study the history of women deacons in the early centuries of the Catholic Church, responding to calls from women to be allowed to assume the role today.
Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers and, as in the priesthood, are to be men in the Church today. They cannot celebrate Mass, but they can preach, teach in the name of the Church, baptize and perform weddings, vigils and funerals, and even lead a parish.