In another indication of his desire to revamp the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis formally approved permitting women and lay people to vote on major issues, including LGBT relationships, at a bishops’ conference.
The upcoming bishops’ conference, called the “Synod on Synodality” and to be held between October 4-29, will feature changes including the addition of 70 non-bishop voting members. Francis wants half of them to be women. The 10 male representatives of various Catholic religious orders who previously had voting rights will be replaced by five male clerics and five nuns with voting rights. In addition, synod undersecretary, Nathalie Becquart, a nun, will also vote
The synod does not have the formal power to effectuate change, but it acts in an advisory role to the Pope about decisions he makes. “After the vote on a final document for the assembly, the pope alone decides whether to take any actions based on the recommendations in the final text or whether to adopt it as an official Church document,” the Catholic News Agency explained.
Some observers were delighted with the change. “It’s an incredible development in the church’s history and something that we’re celebrating as a significant crack in the stained-glass ceiling,” said Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, The New York Times reported.
“It’s church changing,” Deborah Rose, co-director of Future Church, cheered. “It is paradigm changing, it is literally restructuring one of the most important ways that the church makes decisions and looks at pastoral issues within the church. … what he has done is open a dam and opened a door, and I think there’s no going back.”
But the conservative Catholic site Silere non possum charged that Francis and the cardinals in charge of the synod “are trying, in every way, to bring into this institution all those people who have an interest in disrupting the church for their own personal ambitions.”
“No longer finding many bishops willing to trample on Christ’s teaching, they are now turning to ambitious lay people,” the post added.
As far back as 2013, Francis theorized that the roles of women should not be limited “to altar girls or the president of a charity. There must be more.”
In 2021, Francis amended the laws of the church to permit women to act as Bible readers at Mass and distribute communion. The next year, he added women to the committee that counsels which bishops he should select.