Pope Francis reportedly said Thursday he is willing to create a commission to look at whether women can become deacons, signaling openness to a possible break with the Roman Catholic Church tradition of all-male clergy.
The pontiff made the remark during an audience with representatives of women's religious orders around the world.
Francis did not suggest he would allow women priests - he has previously said "the door is closed" on that subject - but when asked if he would create a commission to study whether women could be deacons, he said he was open to the idea, the National Catholic Reporter reported.
"It would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree," he said, according to the Catholic News Service.
Father Frederico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, said Francis had spoken "off the cuff" and was unable to confirm the comment.
Deacons are ordained ministers but are not priests.
Coinciding with his reported remarks, Pope Francis said on Twitter: "Dear religious: wake up the world! Be witnesses to a different way of thinking, acting and living!" It was not clear if the comment was intended to be a reference to the issue of female clergy.