Until now, only men could vote, and women could only attend significant events as spectators. But according to the new rules, five religious sisters will join five priests as voting representatives for religious orders.
Pope Francis has approved amendments that would allow women to vote for the first time at a global assembly of bishops.
Women’s organisations in the Catholic church, who have been campaigning for years for the opportunity to vote at high-profile synods, hailed the move as significant for an institution that has been dominated by males for centuries.
“This is a significant crack in the stained-glass ceiling,” said Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, an organisation that pushes for women’s ordination.
Since the 1960s, Popes have summoned the world’s bishops to Rome for a few weeks at a time to debate specific issues.
At the end of the conference, the bishops vote on specific recommendations and present them to the Pope, who then creates a document that incorporates their input.
Until now, only men could vote, and women could only attend significant events as spectators.
According to the new rules, five religious sisters will join five priests as voting representatives for religious orders.
Pope Francis has also chosen to appoint 70 non-bishop members of the synod, a papal consultative council, of which half must be women. They, too, will be able to vote.
Synods are typically attended by around 300 persons, implying that the majority of those with voting rights will continue to be men.
“It’s an important change, it’s not a revolution,” a senior synod organiser, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, said.
Pope Francis has retained the Catholic Church’s ban on ordaining women as priests while also taking moves to offer women more participation in decision-making roles.
He has chosen some women to high-level Vatican roles, but none of the key offices or departments are led by a woman.
Preparations for the impending bishops’ meeting in October have been ongoing for two years, during which time Catholics all around the world have been asked about their vision for the church’s future.