Pope Francis, for the first time on Sunday, bestowed the Roman Catholic lay offices of lector and catechist on women, roles previously held by many without institutional recognition.
He conferred the ministries at a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, where, in a clear reference to resistance to change by a conservative, he criticized those who need rigid regulations and “more rules” to find God.
Last year, Francis amended the Church’s law on the offices of lector and acolyte, which was primarily reserved for seminarians preparing for the priesthood, saying he wanted to bring stability and public recognition to women already serving in the positions.
Lecturers read from the scriptures, acolytes serve at mass, and catechists teach faith to children and adult converts.
The ministries of lecturer and acolyte used to exist, but were officially reserved for men. Francis established the office of catechist last year.
During Sunday Mass, the Pope installed six women and two men as lecturers and three women and five men as catechists. Francis gave each lecturer a Bible and each catechist a crucifix.
The formalization, including an award ceremony, will make it more difficult for conservative bishops to prevent women in their dioceses from taking on those roles.
The change will be especially important in recognition of women in places like the Amazon, where some are the de facto religious leaders of remote communities affected by a severe shortage of priests.
The Vatican stressed that the scrolls are not a precursor to women being allowed to become priests one day. The Catholic Church teaches that only men can be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
Women priesthood adherents say that Jesus conformed to the customs of his day and that women played a greater role in the early church than is generally acknowledged.
Francis has appointed a number of women to senior positions in Vatican departments previously held by men.
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