A radical decision for the radical pope. Pope Francis has changed church rules to allow women and people from other religions to participate in the traditional foot-washing ritual. Popes in the past have performed the ceremony only for Christian men, recalling the 12 apostles of Jesus
Shortly after Pope Francis was elected, several conservatives criticize his foot-washing ritual on men and women, Christians as well as Muslims, at a jail. And now the Vatican has announced that the rite can be performed to anyone. The traditional Easter Week rite is now open to those "chosen from among the people of God," regardless of their religious affiliation.
The Catholic Church believes that episode--on the night before Christ was crucified on Good Friday--symbolizes the formal institution of the all-male priesthood. So any move to change that rule could raise questions about ordination.
Nevertheless, according to the decree, priests who will do the ritual must make sure that participants are instructed beforehand about the significance of the gesture. The phrase "people of God" generally refers to baptized Christians, but the decree stated that pastors should instruct the people who will undergo to the ritual. It is important that they are conscious of it.
In a letter from Pope Francis, dated Dec. 20, 2014, but released Thursday, it says the changes are needed to fully express the "the significance of Jesus' gesture." The letter added that Jesus gave himself to all kinds of people, regardless of their beliefs and gender.
Despite the criticisms, the new rule is welcomed by several organizations. The Women's Ordination Conference, an organization that advocates female priesthood, celebrated the pontiff's announcement. The group said the decree is a sign that radical change in the Catholic church is not possible.
On the other hand, traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli said that the accommodation of woman to the ritual might lead to questions about the legality of the inviolability of the all-male priesthood, and it could bring the Catholic Church the way of the Anglican Communion, which is deeply divided for allowing female clergy and blessing same-sex couples.
"What is most tragic is to see the very same impulses that imploded Anglicanism imposed on Latin Church decades later," Rorate Caeli stated.
The Thursday's action will likely cause further debates in the future, but it's clear this is part of Pope Francis' long-term campaign for reform in the Catholic church.