Pope Francis says he is prepared to commission a study into whether women can enter the Catholic clergy at the rank of deacon – one below a priest.
He was making the remarks in a closed-door meeting in Rome with senior members of women’s religious orders.
Deacons are ordained ministers who can preach or preside over weddings and funerals, but can not conduct Mass.
However Vatican media reported that the Pope did not consider the possibility of ordaining women priests.
During a 75-minute conversation on Thursday the Pope was asked if he would be willing to create a commission to study whether women could serve as deacons.
According Vatican media, Francis said he was open to the idea: “It would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree.'”
Currently all Catholic priests and deacons are male. Priests must be celibate, but deacons can be married men.
Groups advocating women’s ordination have long argued that there have been many female deacons in history.
The BBC’s James Reynolds in Rome says the remarks do not constitute a formal Vatican announcement. But they do signal the Pope’s willingness to examine a greater official role for women within the Church.