By Mark Abrams

by Mark Abrams

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pope Francis appears to be opening a door to a greater role for women in the Catholic Church, agreeing to study re-constituting a clerical office held by both men and women in the early Church.

It was during a meeting in the Vatican with women religious leaders late last week that the issue surfaced – women potentially becoming deacons.

“There is pretty clear evidence that women were deacons throughout the early centuries of the church and into the early Middle Ages,” says Dr. William Madges, a theology professor and papal scholar at St. Joseph’s University.

The pope even acknowledged his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, appointed a commission to study the idea of female deacons. And Francis says he’s willing to re-visit it.

Madges says some conservatives may be feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea, but,

“It’s not necessarily a step on the way to priesthood. It’s actually a ministry in its own right. And, so, when people focus on that, who might be concerned about a slippery slope, saying it doesn’t need to be that at all,” he said.