Pope Francis has decided to give women the right to vote at an upcoming meeting of bishops, an unprecedented change that reflects his hopes to give women greater decision-making responsibilities and laypeople more say in the life of the Catholic Church.
Francis approved changes to the norms governing the Synod of Bishops, a Vatican body that gathers the world’s bishops together for periodic meetings.
The Vatican on Wednesday published the modifications he approved, which emphasize his vision for the lay faithful taking on a greater role in church affairs that have long been left to clerics, bishops and cardinals.
For decades, women have demanded the right to vote at synods, the next of which is scheduled for October.
Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church, 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.
But under the new changes, five religious sisters will join five priests as voting representatives for religious orders.
In addition, Francis has decided to appoint 70 non-bishop members of the synod and has asked that half of them be women. They too will have a vote.