VIENNA, Austria – Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has said that in his view, whether the Church could ordain women as deacons remains an “open question.”

The Archbishop of Vienna was speaking Sept. 29 to 1700 delegates from parish councils and other bodies in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Reflecting that he recently had ordained 14 men to the permanent diaconate, he added, according to local news agency Kathpress, “perhaps one day also female deacons.”

Schönborn said that there had been female deacons in the Church in times past, and that “basically, this [question] is open.”

Pope Francis has spoken often about the importance of the role of women in the Church. In 2016 he appointed a new commission to examine the possibility of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was appointed president of that commission, consisting of 12 members – 6 men and 6 women.

According to sources, drafting of their final report was completed in April. Whether it has yet been submitted to the pope is unknown.

In 2002 the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a report which gave a thorough historical context of the role of the deaconess in the ancient Church.

The commission overwhelmingly concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had neither a liturgical nor a sacramental function.