The cardinal said female deacons were a possibility, though

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has clarified his views on female ordination, saying that women priests would be “too profound a change”. However, he signalled his support for the introduction of deaconesses.

In an interview with Austrian news site OE24, the Archbishop of Vienna said that while there were female deacons in the early Church, he did not foresee a female priesthood in the future.

“There were deaconesses in the first centuries, which could be reintroduced, but there have never been priestesses in the Catholic Church. That would be too profound an encroachment on the 2,000-year tradition, and even Pope Francis said: ‘that is not foreseen.’”

The cardinal had previously caused controversy after saying that a pope “cannot decide” by himself whether or not the ordination of women is permitted.

“Ordination [of women] is a question that surely can only be settled by a Council,” he told Die Presse. “A pope cannot decide this by himself. This is too large a question for it to be settled from the desk of a pope.”

Shortly afterwards, cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a strongly-worded article in Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, saying the prohibition on women being ordained to the priesthood is “definitive”.

“It gives rise to serious concern to see that in some countries there still are voices that put in doubt the definitive nature of this doctrine,” he wrote.

“Sowing these doubts creates serious confusion among the faithful not only about the sacrament of orders as part of the divine constitution of the Church, but also about how the ordinary magisterium can teach Catholic doctrine in an infallible way,” he added.