Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Pope Francis Monday changed Catholic Church law that allows women the right to act as readers, altar servers and to assist during services and administer Communion -- but stopped short of allowing females to become priests.
The pope said women have made a "precious contribution" to the church, but the new law merely formalizes roles that women have already been taking in numerous countries, including the United States.
Pope Francis said he wanted a change in Canon Law to formalize and institutionalize the presence of women at the altar.
Many had wanted the pontiff to go a step further and open more roles to women.
In an open letter to the pope, a German movement of Catholic woman asked that he give equal access to church leadership roles.
"We're still 100 steps behind the historic moment that we live, but [this is] always better than standing still," said Cristina Simonelli, president of an Italian association of female theologians.
"Francis, on one side, is merely acknowledging reality on the ground, as it is right now," said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University.
"But this is important because the [conservative] bishops have been contradicted, openly, by Pope Francis."