Pope Francis has once again made waves in the Catholic Church with a move to revamp its structure and procedures. The pontiff has approved a change that will allow women and lay people to vote on major issues at the upcoming bishops’ conference, including LGBT relationships.
The “Synod on Synodality,” which will take place between October 4-29, will feature 70 non-bishop voting members. For the first time, half of them will be women, replacing the ten male representatives of various Catholic religious orders who previously had voting rights. In addition, the undersecretary of the synod, Nathalie Becquart, a nun, will also be afforded the right to vote.
The Synod does not have the formal power to make changes, but its function is to provide advice to the Pope on decisions he makes. Many are celebrating the move as an important milestone in the Catholic Church, with Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, calling it “an incredible development in the church’s history and something that we’re celebrating as a significant crack in the stained-glass ceiling.”
“It’s church changing,” expressed the co-director of Future Church, Deborah Rose. “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.”
However, the conservative Catholic site Silere non possum is concerned that the Pope and his 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,” stated one post.
This is not the first time that Pope Francis has made strides in terms of providing greater roles for women in the Church. As far back as 2013, he has theorized that their roles should not be limited to altar girls or charity presidents. Last year, Francis amended the laws of the Church to allow women to act as Bible readers at Mass and distribute communion. He also added women to the committee that counsels him on which bishops to select.
It is clear that Pope Francis is intent on changing the face of the Catholic Church, and these recent developments are just the latest evidence of that. Although some may be uncomfortable with the changes, it is evident that the Church is taking steps to be more inclusive and to ensure that women, who make up half of the Catholic population, are more fully included in the decision-making process.