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Catholic Synod opens question of women deacons

VATICAN CITY – A major Catholic congress concluded Saturday there was an "urgent" need to give women decision-making roles in the Church, proposing further research on whether to allow women to become deacons.

After four weeks of deliberations, the 365 members of the general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which includes Pope Francis, agreed on a 42-page document outlining their conclusions on a range of issues from polygamy to digital culture.

The place of women in the Catholic Church — led for 2,000 years by men, which outlaws abortion and female priests and does not recognise divorce — was one of the priority topics.

“There is an urgent need for women to participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry,” the final declaration said.

They acknowledged that the idea of women becoming deacons — able to celebrate baptisms, marriages and funerals, but not masses — was divisive.

But they asked for further “theological and pastoral research on the access of women to the diaconate”, with the results published at the next assembly, due in one year’s time.

The document said women at the Synod had spoken of a “Church that wounds”, complaining that “clericalism, a chauvinist mentality and an inappropriate use of authority continue to scar the face of the Church”.

The sections on women in the final declaration received the greatest number of “no” votes in the final ballot, with opponents making up around 20 percent.

“This confirms that these are open questions,” Cardinal Mario Grech told reporters at the publication of the statement.

He said there was “still a way to go” but insisted the Church “creates spaces for everyone”.

The closed-door discussions at the Vatican followed a two-year global consultation on the future of the Church, covering issues from the ordination of married priests to the treatment of LGBTQ faithful.

For the first time, women — 54 of them — and lay people had the right to vote in the same way as bishops and cardinals.

As a result, the talks opened on October 4 amid strong expectations, with huge hopes of change but also concern among conservatives who feared a distortion of the doctrine.

In the end, the final document was restrained, but commentators hailed a shift in the whole Synod process.

“This is the first time that the diversity of perspectives across cultures and continents has been expressed so strongly and so clearly,” said one of the participants, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pope Francis, 86, will formally bring an end to the assembly with a mass on Sunday at the Vatican.

Since taking office in 2013, he has worked to reform the governance of the Church, seeking to make it less hierarchical and closer to the faithful.

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