Pope Francis has changed Catholic church law to allow women to perform more tasks during mass, granting them access to the most sacred place on the alter.
Francis amended the church law to institutionalise changes so that women can installed as lectors, read scripture, and serve on the alter as eucharistic ministers. In many places, women performing these tasks is already common practice – the Pope’s changes merely make it formal.
It is the first time the Vatican has explicitly, through canon law, allowed women to access the altar. In a letter corresponding to the decree announcing the change, Pope Francis said he would like to recognise the “precious contribution” women make to the church.
But Pope Francis reaffirmed that the Vatican will continue to reserve the priesthood solely for men, and also noted the distinction between “ordained” ministries, like priesthood and diaconate, and ministries open to qualified lay people.
The changes for women come as the Pope faces pressure to allow women to become deacons, who perform many of the same functions as priests, including leading prayer services, and presiding at baptisms, weddings and funerals.
Last year, after a synod to discuss whether women should be allowed to become deacons, Pope Francis did not make the change. He has established a second commission of experts to study and advise whether women could become deacons, after a previous commission did not reach a consensus.
Those who advocate for women becoming deacons say it would given them more power in the ministry and governance of the church. Currently, there are great numbers of women who serve in roles in the Catholic church around the world, but they continue to lack influence within the institution as they cannot be ordained.