VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — In a signal move, Pope Francis has approved the participation of lay men and lay women to participate in the Synod on Synodality and to be given up to 25 percent of the assembly’s voting rights.
The new rules come as an alteration to Pope Francis’ own 2018 Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio, which stipulates the governance and workings of the Synod of Bishops. While the Pope has specifically opened the doors to lay participation and voting rights in the synod, the Secretariat for the Synod argues that the “episcopal specificity of the Synodal Assembly is not affected, but even confirmed.”
The changes were jointly announced today at a press conference, delivered by Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the Synod on Synodality.
The changes to the participants in the Synod of Bishops, set to be held this October and next, mean that priests, religious men and women, and laity will now form part of the composition of the voting assembly.
Ten assorted clerics from various Institutes of Consecrated Life, who previously were part of the synod under the original 2018 constitution, are to be replaced by five male and five female religious from various Institutes of Consecrated Life.
In addition, the previously included “auditors” are to be done away with and replaced by 70 individuals who are not bishops – priests, deacons, consecrated women, and laity. They will be personally chosen by Pope Francis from a 140-strong shortlist presented to him by the various international bishops’ conferences and the Assembly of Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches.
Half of this number must be women, according to the new rules. All of these 70 individuals will have the right to vote. No more than 25 percent of the voting assembly is to be made up of laity.
Such changes “are justified in the context of the synodal process, without changing, however, the episcopal nature of the Assembly,” re-iterated the synod press release.
Furthermore, the Synod on Synodality will be joined by other “experts” who will not have the right to vote, and are thus not given the title “Member of the Assembly.” Such “experts” – perhaps drawn from the “experts” who complied the working document for the continental stage – will be joined by other “facilitators.”
An ecumenical side to the synod is becoming increasingly evident in recent weeks, with the official announcement being made that “fraternal delegates, members of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities will also participate.”
Referring to the newly announced changes to the Synod of Bishops as a body, the synod team stated that “the need to make this refinement has emerged with the progressive reception of the Second Vatican Council, particularly from the relations between the People of God, the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome.”
The decision to involve non-bishops in the October assembly of the Synod of Bishops, according to the Synod team:
reinforces the solidity of the process as a whole, incorporating into the Assembly the living memory of the preparatory phase, through the presence of some of those who were its protagonists, thus restoring the image of a Church-People of God, founded on the constitutive relationship between common priesthood and ministerial priesthood, and giving visibility to the circular relationship between the prophetic function of the People of God and the discerning function of the Pastors. Thanks to better integration with the preparatory phase, the Assembly makes concrete the hope that it can ‘become an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church’ (Francis, Address in the 50th Synod).
Welcomed by advocates for women’s ordination
Presenting the news April 26, the two cardinals downplayed the monumental nature of the change. However, the changes have been noted as striking both by critics and supporters.
EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo wrote how “with this the Church goes from the 1st Vatican Council to American Idol. Doesn’t this violate Pope Francis’ promise that ‘the Synod is not a parliament’?”
Deacon Nick Donnelly, a vocal critic of modernist ideologies within the Catholic Church, argued that “[t]hese changes to the Synod, especially giving lay people the right to vote will invalidate the decisions made by the 2023 synod. They contradict the hierarchical nature of the Church instituted by our Lord.”
The Spectator’s Damian Thompson criticized the moves, writing how “[t]he shameless rigging continues: hand-picked lay activists tighten their grip on the ‘synod’ of ‘bishops.’”
In the near future, we hope that the synod continues to develop into a fully representative body of the people of God. This is an important step on the path toward gender parity, and we will continue our persistent efforts to work for lasting structural changes in the church.
— #OrdainWomen find us on IG @womensordination (@OrdainWomen) April 26, 2023
What now for the synod? Synod leaders weigh in
With the official approval now given for lay involvement and voting in the synod, resemblances with Germany’s heterodox “Synodal Way,” which is also comprised of lay and clerical members, are increasing.
LifeSiteNews questioned Hollerich about how the synod’s focus would proceed, raising the issue of the numerous calls for accommodating LGBT-related issues contained in the synodal documents. Hollerich firmly rebuffed the idea that LGBT issues were a “topic” of the synod, saying that it is on “synodality, and it’s not homosexuality, it’s not on women’s ordination.”
“It has a very defined topic: synodality, communion, participation, and mission,” the cardinal stated.
Expanding on the topic of homosexuality, Hollerich added how his “care” for the synod enabled him to “distinguish perhaps private issues I have, and what the Pope has asked from me. There will be no mixing of these things.”
LifeSite also recently spoke to Sister Nathalie Becquart – undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops and the Vatican’s first female member of the Roman Curia with synodal voting rights – asking similarly about how the synod would ensure that “listening” did not take priority over Catholic teaching.
Becquart replied that the pastors and the synod itself must focus on “discernment,” and listen to the “sensus fidei.” She highlighted a “tension between truth, teaching of the Church, and mercy.”
LifeSite also asked how the “pastors” would implement Catholic teaching after so much attention was given to “listening.” Becquart did not know how such an eventuality would be effected.
Instead, she called for pastors to teach by accounting for different cultures and “experiences” which would be a more “pastoral approach.”