Pope allows women to vote at bishops meeting for first time


Pope Francis is set to allow women to vote at a bishops meeting for first time.

(Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

  • Five religious sisters will be allowed to vote for the first time at a global meeting of bishops in October.
  • The new rules follow two significant steps Francis took last year to place women in decision-making positions in the Vatican.
  • Pope Francis has also named three women to a previously all-male committee that advises him in selecting the world’s bishops.

In a historic move that could lead to more inclusiveness in decision-making in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis will allow women to vote for the first time at a global meeting of bishops in October.

Previously, women were allowed to attend the synods, a papal advisory body, as auditors but with no right to vote.

The revolutionary rules, announced on Wednesday, allow for five religious sisters with voting rights.

Additionally, the pope has decided to include what a Vatican document called “70 non-bishop members who represent various groupings of the faithful of the people of God”.

The pope will choose the 70 priests, religious sisters, deacons and lay Catholics from a list of 140 people recommended by national bishops’ conferences. The conferences were encouraged to include young people. The Vatican has asked that 50% of the 70 be women.

About 300 people usually attend synods, so most of those with voting rights will still be bishops. Still, the change is remarkable for an institution that has been male-dominated for centuries.

The new rules follow two significant steps Francis took last year to place women in decision-making positions in the Vatican.

In one, he introduced a landmark reform allowing any baptised lay Catholic, including women, to head most Vatican departments under a new Constitution for the Holy See’s central administration.

In another year, he named three women to a previously all-male committee advising him in selecting the world’s bishops.

Right to vote

Women’s groups in the Church have for years been demanding the right to vote at the high-profile synods, which prepare resolutions that usually lead to a papal document.

A 2018 synod became a flashpoint when two “brothers”, laymen who are not ordained, were allowed to vote in their capacity as superiors general of their religious orders.

But Sister Sally Marie Hodgdon, an American who also is not ordained, was not allowed to vote even though she was the superior general of her order.

In 2021, Francis, for the first time, named a woman to the number two position in the governorship of Vatican City, making Sister Raffaella Petrini the highest-ranking woman in the world’s smallest state.

The same year, he named Italian nun Sister Alessandra Smerilli to the number two position in the Vatican’s development office, which deals with justice and peace issues.

He also named Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters, as co-undersecretary of the Vatican department that prepares synods.

The upcoming synod has been in preparation for two years, during which Catholics worldwide were asked about their vision for the future of the Church.

Proponents have welcomed the consultations as an opportunity to change the Church’s power dynamics and give a greater voice to lay Catholics, including women and people on the margins of society.

Conservatives say the process has been a waste of time, may erode the hierarchical structure of the nearly 1.4 billion-member Church and, in the long run, could dilute traditional doctrine.


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