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Gerard O’ConnellApril 26, 2023
Pope Francis poses for a photo with leaders of the Synod of Bishops' general secretariat in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Oct. 14, 2022. Pictured with the pontiff are Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, relator general; Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, consultant; Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general; Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, undersecretary; and Xavière Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

For the first time in the history of the synod, Pope Francis has given women the right to vote and has also made a radical change to the membership of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality.

At the synod, which opens in October, between 21 and 25 percent of the members with a right to vote will not be bishops. These members will include consecrated women and men as well as lay women and men. All those who are members of the synod will have a right to vote.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, popes have summoned the world’s bishops to Rome for a few weeks at a time to debate particular topics. At the end of the meetings, the bishops vote on specific proposals and put them to the pope, who then produces a document taking their views into account.

Until now, the only people who could vote were men.

For the first time in the history of the synod, Pope Francis has given women the right to vote and has also made a radical change to the membership of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality.

The news was broken at a press briefing on April 26 by Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general of the synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the synod.

Explaining the change in synod membership, Cardinal Hollerich explained that while in the past, 10 clerics belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life and elected by the respective organizations representing the superiors general could participate in the synod, this is no longer the case. Instead of 10 clerics, these groups will now be represented by “five women religious and five men religious,” and “as members of the synod, they will have the right to vote.”

Cardinal Hollerich also noted that there will no longer be auditors present at the synod, as there were in the past. Instead, “an additional 70 non-bishop members have been added who represent various groupings of the faithful, of the people of God [priests, consecrated women, deacons, lay faithful] and who come from the local churches.” These will be chosen by Pope Francis from a list of 140 names presented to him by the seven international reunions of bishops’ conferences and the assembly of the patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches. The cardinal said that Francis requested that “50 percent of them be women, and that the presence of young people also be emphasized [in choosing these members].” All 70 will have a right to vote.

Asked whether this change in membership represents a “revolution” in the church, Cardinal Hollerich said: “It’s an important change, not a revolution. We don’t have victims.”

Asked whether this change in membership represents a “revolution” in the church, Cardinal Hollerich said: “It’s an important change, not a revolution. We don’t have victims.”

Cardinal Grech reckoned that the total membership of the forthcoming synod will be around 370.

He did not know when the names of the participants would be made public but said it will happen “as soon as possible,” once the bishops’ conferences send names to the secretariat and the pope gives his approval.

Pope Francis will also appoint a number of members himself, who will have a right to vote.

There will be other participants at the synod who are not members and will not have a right to vote. These are “experts,” who are competent on certain subjects of relevance to the synod, and, for the first time, “facilitators,” who will facilitate the work of the synod at various moments of the assembly.

As in past synods, “fraternal delegates,” that is, members of other churches and ecclesial communities, will also participate.

In an interview in March with Elisabetta Piqué (who is my wife), a correspondent for La Nacion, the Argentine daily, revealed for the first time that he intended to give a vote to both men and women at the synod on synodality. “All participants,” whether male or female, “will have the right to vote,” he said. “Everyone, everyone. That word ‘everyone’ is key for me.”

The synod on synodality opened in October 2021 with listening phases at the local church level in the different countries. The second phase took place in the first quarter of this year at the continental (or international) levels. The next phase of the synod will be conducted in two sessions, the first one in October 2023 and the second in October 2024, with mostly the same participants at each session. The instrumentum laboris, or working document, for the October 2023 phase of the synod is expected to be published by the end of May. The synod’s first session will open on Oct. 4 and last until Oct. 29.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. This article has been updated.

Listen next: What's happening with the Synod on Synodality?

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