The Pope allows women to vote at the next bishops’ meeting

VATICAN CITY (AP) Pope Francis has decided to grant women the vote at an upcoming meeting of bishops, a landmark reform that reflects his hopes to give women greater decision-making responsibilities and give ordinary people a greater role in the life of the Catholic Church.

Francis approved changes to the rules governing the Synod of Bishops, a Vatican body that brings together the world’s bishops for regular meetings, after years of women’s demands for the right to vote.

On Wednesday, the Vatican published the amendments it approved, which underline its vision of the lay faithful taking a bigger role in church affairs that has long been left to clergy, bishops and cardinals.

Catholic women’s groups, which have long criticized the Vatican for treating women as second-class citizens, hailed the move as landmark in the church’s 2,000-year life.

said Kate McCloy of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for women priests.

Since Vatican II, the meetings of the 1960s that modernized the Church, popes have summoned the bishops of the world to Rome for a few weeks at a time to discuss certain topics. At the end of the meetings, the bishops vote on specific proposals and put them forward to the pope, who then prepares a document that takes their views into account.

Until now, only men could vote. But under the new changes, five nuns will join five priests as voting representatives of the religious denominations. In addition, Francis decided to appoint 70 non-Episcopal members to the Synod and required that half of them be women. They too will have a vote.

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The aim is also to involve young people from among those seventy non-bishop members, who will be proposed by the provincial caucuses, with Francis making a final decision.

“It is an important change, it is not a revolution,” said Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, one of the chief organizers of the Synod.

The next meeting, scheduled for October 4-29, is centered on the theme of making the Church more reflective and responsive to the laity, a process known as “synodalism” and which Francis has advocated for years.

The October meeting was preceded by an unprecedented two-year survey of Catholic lay believers on their vision of the Church and how it can best respond to the needs of Catholics today.

So far, only one woman is known to be a voting member of the October meeting, and that is Sister Nathalie Picquart, a French nun who works as undersecretary in the office of the Vatican Synod of Bishops. When she was appointed to the position in 2021, she called Francis “brave.” For pushing the envelope for women’s participation.

By the end of next month, seven regional blocs will propose 20 names each of non-bishop members to Francis, who will choose 10 names each bringing the total to 70.

Cardinal Mario Grech, in charge of the Synod, confirmed that with the changes, about 21% of the representatives gathered for the October meeting would be non-bishops, with half of that group being women.

Acknowledging the unease within the hierarchy of Francis’ vision of totalitarianism, he stressed that the Synod itself would continue to have a majority of bishops.

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“Change is normal in life and history,” Hollerich told reporters. Sometimes there are revolutions in history, but revolutions have victims. he said laughing.

Women’s Catholicism, a British-based group that says it is dedicated to fighting misogyny in the church, welcomed the reform but asked for more.

“The CWO will want transparency, electing lay people from parishes rather than being chosen by the hierarchy, but it’s a start!” said CWO’s Pat Brown.

Hollerich declined to disclose how the meeting’s female members were called, given that the members had long been known as “Synod Fathers”. When asked if they would be known as “Synod Mothers”, he replied that it was up to the women to decide.

Francis supported the Catholic Church’s ban on women being ordained as priests, but has done more than any pope in recent times to give women a greater say in decision-making roles in the church.

He appointed several women to high-ranking positions in the Vatican, although none of the main Vatican offices or departments, known as dicasteries, was headed by a woman.

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