...By Joseph Benjamin for TDPel Media.
The Vatican announced on April 26, 2023, that laypeople will participate with voting rights in the upcoming assembly of the Synod on Synodality, a break with past custom, which allowed laypeople to participate without the right to vote.
Pope Francis will also approve every member in advance.
The Synod on Synodality’s general assembly will take place in two sessions, in October 2023 and October 2024.
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.
Changes to Synod on Synodality’s Leadership and Membership
The synod leadership released information on April 26 about who will attend the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October and how they will be chosen.
The most significant change announced was the removal of the “auditor” role.
Now, 70 members, who may be priests, consecrated women, deacons, and laypeople, will be able to vote.
They will be chosen by the pope from among a list of 140 people selected by the leadership of this year’s continental synod meetings.
According to the synod leadership, it is requested that “50% of [the selected people] be women and that the presence of young people also be emphasized.”
Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said the non-bishop participants, including priests, religious, deacons, and laypeople, “are witnesses of the memory of the process, of the itinerary, of the discernment that began two years ago.”
There will also be participants with a nonvoting capacity, who are experts, facilitators, and fraternal delegates from non-Catholic faiths.
The norms regulating synods of bishops were updated by Pope Francis in 2018 in the apostolic constitution Episcopalis Communio.
According to the FAQ sheet from the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, the norms continue to be based on Episcopalis Communio “with some modifications and new features to the composition of the assembly and the kinds of participants.”
The document called the changes “warranted within the context of the synodal process.”
The Vatican’s announcement is a significant development in the Catholic Church’s synodal process, giving laypeople the right to vote in the Synod on Synodality’s October assembly.
This change is a significant departure from the past, where laypeople could participate in synods but without the right to vote.
It indicates Pope Francis’ commitment to decentralizing power within the Church and involving the laity in decision-making processes.
The inclusion of more women and young people in the assembly also represents a significant shift towards greater diversity and inclusion.
Critics argue that the Synod’s membership changes could compromise the Synod’s episcopal nature, but Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the Synod on Synodality, said that it remains a synod of bishops while also enriching the Church to have the participation of others.