Pope Francis on Monday changed church law to formally allow women to serve as readers at liturgies and as altar servers, in an amendment that made clear that these roles are separate from the all-male priesthood.
It was a formal acknowledgement in canon law of what has already been happening in many churches around the world where women serve in these lay roles. However, by introducing the change in the Code of Canon Law, it would be impossible for conservative clerics to block women from having those roles.
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“The choice to give women these offices too, which involve stability, public recognition and the mandate of the bishop, makes the participation of all in the work of evangelization more effective in the Church,” the decree stated.
Francis made the change to church law of his own accord and it comes after it was formally requested by church leaders at a summit in the Amazon in 2019.
"I think it’s a big deal because it's arguing that women are equally human," said Phyllis Zagano, a professor of religion at Hofstra University in New York.
"It's a signal that the church is making into law what it preaches, which is that women are made in the likeness of God."
In the decree, called "Spiritus Domini" (The Spirit of the Lord), the pope said he had taken his decision after theological reflection.
He said many bishops from around the world had said that the change was necessary to respond to the "needs of the times."
Reuters contributed to this report.
Signal to places in the world where women still formally considered chattel, endangered and considered unclean, that they are equally human and they can be near the sacred.