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Pope Formally Expands Women's Roles in Catholic Church

FILE - Pope Francis reads his message during the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Nov. 8, 2020.

Pope Francis changed church law Monday to formally allow for more roles for women within the Catholic Church.

The decree, called "Spiritus Domini" (The Spirit of the Lord), allows women to serve as readers and altar servers, as well as to assist priests during service or in administering Holy Communion. It officially updates the Code of Canon Law to reflect that "lay persons ... can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte," instead of the previous version "lay men."

In many dioceses, women have already been allowed to carry out such activities. The decision comes as a formal move from Francis, who has publicly advocated for a more diverse and inclusive church, to impede conservative bishops from enforcing male-only altar services in their jurisdictions.

"The decision to confer these offices even on women, which entails stability, public recognition and a mandate on the part of the bishop, will make more effective everyone's participation in the work of evangelization," the decree says.

Francis, however, reiterated that priesthood continues to be a male-only path.

"The church does not have the faculty in any way to confer priestly ordination on women," the pope wrote in a Monday letter to Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

For years, Francis has analyzed the possibility of expanding women's roles within the church. In April 2020, the pope established a commission to study whether women should be granted the right to become ordained deacons. This would allow women to preach and baptize, but not to conduct Mass.