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Pope Francis appointed a special commission to examine the role of female deacons in the Church, in a potentially historic opening on the possibility of women joining the clergy.

The 13-member commission, made up of seven men and six women, will study the question of female deacons with a particular focus on the history of women having played this role in the early years of the Church, the Vatican said in a statement.

The move follows a pledge made by Francis in May during a question and answers session with members of female religious orders.

Advocates of women serving as deacons have long argued that they are pitifully under-represented in the Church’s hierarchy and decisionmaking processes.

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