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Pope Sets Up Vatican Panel to Study Question of Female Deacons

The 12-member commission includes priests, nuns and laywomen

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    In this file photo, Pope Francis holds a candle as he celebrates a mass for nuns and priest, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. The pontiff has set up a special commission to study whether women will be allowed to become deacons in the Catholic Church.

    Pope Francis has set up a panel to study whether women could serve as deacons, a role now reserved for men.

    The Vatican said Tuesday that Francis, "after intense prayer and mature reflection," decided to set up the 12-member commission, which includes priests, nuns and laywomen.

    Francis alluded to the commission in May while attending a meeting of the International Union of Superiors General. He said he intended to "set up an official commission to study the question" of women as deacons, particularly "regarding the early times of the church." Some historians say there were female deacons in the early church.

    Married men who serve as deacons can preach and preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, but only priests can celebrate Mass.

    Rok Rakun/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images