"Pope Francis wants to hear the voice of the faithful," the Rev. Bob Bonnot, head of U.S. priest group, told RNS. "The church is not a clerical monopoly."
Deacons are one of the three "orders" of ordained ministry in the church, after bishops and priests, and can fulfill some but not all of the duties of priests, including preaching, conducting baptisms and serving Holy Communion.
"Women convinced of a call to ordained service as deacons, supported by many men, including our priest members, deserve to be heard," said Bonnot.
Last year, the pope met with the International Union of Superiors General, an organization composed of leaders of the church's women religious, and later appointed members to the panel.
Bonnot said Francis is giving the issue a serious hearing.
"He has asserted often that we must find ways to enable more women to play servant-leadership roles in the cht urch. This is one possibility that could touch the church from the Vatican to grass-roots parish ministry."
Francis has previously ruled out the ordination of women as priests, saying "that door is closed" in July 2013.
Bridget Mary's Response: :Looks like another positive signal from Pope Francis to prepare the way for women deacons!