Why can’t women vote at the Synod on Young People?

Sister Briana Santiago, a member of the Apostles of the Interior Life from San Antonio, speaks at a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 4. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Last week, shouts of “Knock knock! Who’s there? More than half the church!” echoed off the columns around St. Peter’s Square.

A group of protestors, mostly women, gathered to call for women to be allowed to vote in the Synod on Youth, Young People and Vocational Discernment—a right that, some experts say, there is no canonical reason to deny.

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The issue goes back to the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family. Up until that point, a man had to be ordained a priest, if not a bishop, in order to vote in a synod. Non-ordained representatives elected by their religious orders or appointed by the pope could participate in synod discussions, but they could not vote on resolutions.

For the 2015 synod, the Union of Superiors General, a group of superiors of men's religious orders, elected Brother Hervé Janson, superior general of the Little Brothers of Jesus, as one of their 10 representatives to the Synod. Brother Janson was allowed to vote on synod resolutions though he was not a priest, which raised questions about whether, at the next synod, the ordination requirement to vote would be waived.

Father Thomas Reese, a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter and a former editor in chief of America, explained why allowing a brother to vote would raise questions about including religious sisters. “Under canon law, bishops and priests are ‘clerics,’ but brothers and sisters are not. They are laypeople,” Father Reese wrote in an email to America.

This year, the Vatican starkly shifted the distinction between voting and nonvoting members from one of ordination to one of sex.

Father Reese wrote that he asked Brother Janson at a 2015 press conference “why he, who was not a cleric, could be a voting member of the synod but a sister could not. He admitted he did not know and in fact supported having a sister as a voting member."

Brother Janson also said that he had considered turning down his invitation to the synod as an act of solidarity with women.

This year, the Vatican starkly shifted the distinction between voting and nonvoting members from one of ordination to one of sex.

Religious brothers, who are considered laypeople, can officially vote in this year’s synod, but women’s religious orders, who hold the same status, were not asked to elect representatives at all. About 10 percent of the synod participants are women, all chosen by Pope Francis, and none are appointed with voting rights.

America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, said that according to canonical rules, bishops are the only ones allowed to vote in synods. “This time they allowed some men who are not bishops (but are almost all clerics) to vote, but that is an exception in relation to past practice,” he stated. “Whether they will retain this practice or extend the voting right to women in another synod remains to be seen.”

Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service asked synod officials at a press conference why voting rights would not be extended to women this year, and they responded by pointing out that women are allowed to attend the synod as experts and observers, which they have done since the 1985 synod.

About 10 percent of the synod participants are women, all chosen by Pope Francis, and none are appointed with voting rights.

Mr. O’Connell said that the synod’s organizers may not have noticed that they had not granted women the right to vote and that Pope Francis may have overlooked the omission as well when approving the plans. “They haven’t been used to thinking this way” about including women, Mr. O’Connell said.

Because the protest, which called on cardinals by name to allow women to vote, took place on the opening day of the synod, it seems unlikely that voting rights will be extended to women during the current synod, but some women involved in the synod process have hope that women will be given votes in the future.

Katie Prejean McGrady, a U.S. delegate to the pre-synod gathering, wrote to America, “I have hope that, by allowing non-ordained men to vote in this Synod, we'll see the inclusion of women voters someday soon. I keep reminding myself: the Church is a slow-moving ship. Things don’t happen overnight or with the snap of a finger, and I can’t get mad every single time I disagree with some procedure or process. So rather than be incredibly frustrated by the lack of women voters in this Synod, I'm going to remain hopeful that we'll have women voting in the next one.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Brother Janson was elected by his religious order. He was elected by the Union of Superiors General.

Kevin Murray
5 days 13 hours ago

“They haven’t been used to thinking this way” about including women, Mr. O’Connell said. I respectfully suggest it's time to start. I realize it's a synod of bishops, who are all men, but it would be a generous move of Christ-inspired inclusion to invite women to fully participate and vote.

Catherine Cherry
5 days 12 hours ago

Well it is time to change. I'm a senior now, still working with 31 years of schooling, but when I started my B.Sc. in Chemistry at 16 years old in 1962 many people said, "What are you, a girl doing studying Science? Why are you even going to university? You are only going to get married and have children. Do you need a university degree for that?" And later, when I was teaching high school Chemistry at 20 years old, a Jesuit at an all boys school said, "Well at least you aren't teaching boys." I said I was, to which he replied, "I couldn't be." But I was already. Doesn't that all sound foolish now? Not letting the women vote sounds just as foolish.

Barbara Knorr
5 days 13 hours ago

Insanity. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Will it be in my lifetime that the hierarchy comes into the current century? Will women "experts and observers" ever be qualified to participate fully in the church? Forget the fundraisers and the baking and rest of the ancillary "work" of the Church. Women and men deserve to be acknowledged as equal at all levels of Church administration. There is no shortage of priests. There is a shortage of equality.

Jason & Amy Rogers
5 days 13 hours ago

"I keep reminding myself: the Church is a slow-moving ship." This is why I'm sticking with the Church (for now). I think we're at a moment of acceleration. I'm willing to wait a few more years for the change that must come (or the Church will not survive). Women cannot be left as second-class Catholics for much longer.

Crystal Watson
5 days 13 hours ago

Why aren't women allowed to vote at the synod? For the same reason they can't be priests or even deacons, can't preach at mass, and are told that their main mission in life is to have and raise children .... the church leaders, including the pope, are sexists. It is beyond depressing to see Catholic women begging for the smallest opportunities for equality in this church. The answer to a question that wasn't asked about the synod .... why are young people leaving the church ... this is one of the reasons.

Stephen Pohl
5 days 13 hours ago

If a layman (brother or other) can vote, then the bar for voting is baptism, not ordination. And if the bar for voting is baptism, not ordination, then a laywoman must be allowed to vote also. It is that simple.

lurline jennings
5 days 12 hours ago

When are women going to learn? Males have a place in society and so do women but they can not and should not attempt to compete with each other. Would you want a woman at Mass doing the Elevation and speaking the words? I wouldn't want that. I don't know of anyone who wants female priests. Take a look at the Episcopal church. Nothing is funnier than seeing women dressed in copes and mitres(miters). They call themselves bishops. Men are priests and woman can be religious. There is nothing that states women must be included in everything. There are natural role models. A properly ordained priest is God's representative here on earth when guiding un in all the Sacraments. My family and I would never receive the Host from a woman. The woman can teach in schools, they can become sisters or nuns. But, priests never. Women should remember their most precious charge is to be at home and rear their children and give them their first basic religious education. What is Mary had said, sorry Gabriel I have to go to a synod meeting or I have too many other things to do that are much more important? Gee! we wouldn't have to waste all that time praying the Rosary.

Catherine Cherry
5 days 12 hours ago

You aren't living in the 21st Century!

Sharon Lindenburger
5 days 10 hours ago

Lurline, you are backward.

Sharon Lindenburger
5 days 10 hours ago

Please join the 21st century.

LuAnn O'Connell
5 days 10 hours ago

I would want a woman to preside at a mass and have been where women have presided. That women cannot preside is a manmade rule, not one from the God who made us all in his image, male and female, and who says that in Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. Do you not go to a doctor who is female? A business woman, a plumber? Men can also stay home and take care of the children and teach them. We've taken Jesus simple instructions to love God and one another and to follow him and made up many controlling, restrictive rules that harm people and their faith rather than helping them to follow him wherever he leads, even if that is to a pulpit and altar!

karen oconnell
5 days 8 hours ago

all of them look foolish in their miters..copes...... elaborate regalia. i do feel sad when i see protestant women priests dressed in this way. i feel sad because none of them should be dressing this way in this day and age. these are all left-overs from Constantine and his court. really: christanity should have been called Constantineity.......because -really- in the most obvious situations, this is all that it appears to be. very very sad......

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
4 days 21 hours ago

Dear Lurline, I understand that accepting progress can be challenging. We are now blessed to witness slow acknowledgement that women have brains and can contribute to all elements of our society, including the Church. When you view Episcopal women priests as ridiculous, remember that Christ too was laughed at.

Scholastica Cooney
4 days 12 hours ago

I do actually agree with you that women dressed in priestly garb looks, well, silly. There, I said it. BUT that being said, I disagree with everything else. I saw recently a video of a speech given exhorting people to vote. The analogy used for those who don't vote was: "it's like giving Grandma the rights to your life. Do you want your Grandma to pick out what you wear? Hardly. Your and her tastes may be different. Do you want Grandma to pick out your car for you? Heck, no. You two probably have different wants and needs in a car. Voting is no different. You don't want to let someone else make life decisions for you b/c you weren't in the voting booth". Do you really want men to make your life decisions for you in the church? You really don't want to have a voice in the church as a woman? You really don't want women to have a vote at this synod, thinking that men, and only men, know what youth in the church want? Or that men only have the answers? As for myself, just as I prefer a female gynecologist, I sure wish I had the choice to make my confession to a female. Some things are harder to talk about to men. And the fact that I don't have that choice, well, that's sad.

Crystal Watson
5 days 11 hours ago

Pope Francis changed the teaching on the death penalty in a day ... only a couple of hundred years ago, the Vatican was executing people itself. The church isn't "slow moving" on the issue of women, it's not moving at all because it has no desire to do so.

Reyanna Rice
5 days 10 hours ago

There has been and still is enough tension in the church with the reforms Pope Francis HAS made. Ordaining women would split the church apart and Francis would be found dead in his bed shortly after making the proclamation. It can’t be forced onto the church. People still need time to grow with just the fact that the laity has power and needs to push back against the clericalism culture. In many parts of the world women priests would fly like a lead ballon!

Crystal Watson
5 days 9 hours ago

A majority of Catholics *want* women to be priests.

CATHERINE ARVENTOS
5 days 10 hours ago

Another nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church in the United States?

karen oconnell
5 days 9 hours ago

really, these guys are just spewing 'hog wash.' almost impossible to respect them. for them, everything comes down to a fear of losing 'their place.' very sad lot....really!

Derrick Kourie
5 days 3 hours ago

"Gerard O’Connell, said that according to canonical rules, bishops are the only ones allowed to vote in synods."

Canonical rules are not doctrine. Their purpose is to maintain good order in the Church. The pope can change them at any time if he deems that necessary.

Colm Holmes
5 days 2 hours ago

Your report fails to mention that the Italian police were called by the Vatican. 10 police in bulletproof vests harassed the prayer vigil and took their passports. If only the Vatican was as prompt in dealing with clerical child abusers!

Robert Bossie
4 days 18 hours ago

Amen. I fully agree.

Andrew Wolfe
4 days 20 hours ago

This is idiotic. Episcopal or clerical ordination is a clear and reasonable line; allowing anyone who isn't ordained would be clear and reasonable. Allowing men only among laity is just stirring up trouble and trolling multiple factions in the Church at the same time. Hard to imagine just how tone-deaf the planners must have been to pull this kind of stunt.

Molly Roach
4 days 14 hours ago

The reason that women cannot vote at Synod is that the men do not want them to vote. This is a very ancient bigotry, there is deep reluctance to call what it is because there is a much deeper reluctance to grow up and let go of it.

Stan Zorin
4 days 13 hours ago

Any woman who has a pedigree of orthodoxy of her beliefs and who explicitly abjures the Great Feminist Mother Satan and her works and dogmas should be given the right to vote.

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