Vatican City: Pope Francis, in another step towards greater equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church, on Monday changed its law to formally allow them to serve as readers at liturgies, altar servers and distributors of communion.
In a decree, the pope formalised what already has been happening in many developed countries for years. But by introducing the change in the Code of Canon Law, it will be impossible for conservative bishops to block women in their diocese from having those roles.
But the Vatican stressed that these roles were "essentially distinct from the ordained ministry", meaning that they should not be seen as an automatic precursor to women one day being allowed to be ordained priests.
"The pontiff, therefore, has established that women can accede to these ministries and they are attributed by a liturgical function that institutionalises them," the Vatican said in an explanatory note.
In the decree, called "Spiritus Domini" (The Spirit of the Lord), Francis 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".