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Catholic Church: women hope for change ahead of Synod opening

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves at the end an audience with members of the Catholic Women's Organisations at the Paul VI hall in the Vatican. 13/05/2023   -  
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Catholic women are hoping for change in the Church as the Synod of Bishops prepares to open on October 4 at the Vatican.

Pope Francis will open the global gathering of bishops with 464 participants in which, for the first time, both women and lay-people will be permitted to vote. 

Historically dominated by men, the Catholic Church has faced growing demands by women who want to play a more active role in church governance. 

Second-class citizens

Women, who are barred from the priesthood and highest ranks of power, have long complained that they are treated as second-class citizens in the church. 

Now, 54 women will vote alongside the bishops during the 3-week long synod, a significant reform towards women's equality in the Church.  

The gathering is the culmination of an unprecedented two-year canvasing of lay Catholics about their hopes for the future of the institution, including on topics such as women, LGBTQ+ Catholics and priestly celibacy. 

There is hope amongst progressive Catholics that this synod, and a second session next year, could lead to real change.

Inclusive Church

Until now, women have played only marginal roles at the gatherings. Previously seated in the last row of the audience hall while the bishops and cardinals took the front rows and voted, the women will now be seated alongside the men at hierarchically neutral round tables to facilitate discussion. 

In 2021, Francis took a first step in responding to women's demands by appointing a French Sister, Nathalie Becquart, as undersecretary of the synod's organising secretariat, a job previously only held by men. 

Becquart has become in many ways the face of the synod, travelling the globe to explain Francis' vision of a more inclusive church.

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