Rome [Italy], January 12 (ANI): Pope Francis has changed the laws of the Roman Catholic Church to formally allow women to serve at the altar, give readings from the Bible during Mass and administer communion, yet they remain barred from ordained priesthood.
In a letter accompanying the decree announcing the change, the Pope said he wanted to recognize the "precious contribution" that women made to the church, as well as that of lay people, reported The New York Times.
However, the decree makes a distinction between ordained ministries, including the priesthood and the diaconate, which are reserved for men, and other ministries open to baptised men and women.
The Vatican said in a note on Monday that "Pope Francis wanted to formalize and institutionalize the presence of women at the altar," and the new decree was the result.
In many countries, Catholic women were already carrying out those duties, which are officially reserved for men.
However, by amending the Code of Canon Law, which lays down the rules of Catholic practices, Francis has removed the possibility that conservative bishops might prohibit women from acceding to these positions, The New York Times reported.
Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference, opined that though this change won't affect many Catholics where women are already serving in these roles for years, this could be a step toward greater equality for women in communities that discriminate or defend oppressive practices.
Meanwhile, Lucetta Scaraffia, a church historian and feminist, said that the pope's new decree effectively closes the door on women becoming deacons.
"There is nothing new in the decree -- it effectively recognizes the roles that many women have been doing for decades, only now they will be controlled by a bishop," said Scaraffia in a telephone interview to the NYT.
The church hierarchy, including Pope Francis, has made it clear in recent decades that ordaining women as priests is not on the table.
After a 2019 meeting at the Vatican, Francis issued a papal letter that said women should have more formal roles in the church, adding that the services of reader and altar server "entail stability, public recognition and a commission from the bishop."These services "allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood," Francis added, citing the letter that followed the 2019 meeting. (ANI)