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Laypeople Get a Vote in the Synod: Father Dave Explains the New Process

After the Vatican’s announcement regarding the Synod on Synodality’s voting process, Father Dave explains the history of these gatherings and their future impact. Contrary to previous custom, laypeople, including women, will participate as voting members of the general assembly that begins this October.

Father Dave begins by reminding us the definition of a synod. “It’s the gathering of bishops;, a synod is essentially like a meeting. Pope Francis has expanded our notion of it, that it’s a collegial journeying together,” he says. “That’s why synodality, meaning having to do with a synod, isn’t just the notion of having a lot of meetings. It is how we come together and build consensus as a Church.”

The modern history of the Synod of Bishops began after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Father Dave explains how, prior to this, bishops would gather infrequently; they only would meet for large ecumenical councils, such as the Council of Trent or First Vatican Council. Following the Second Vatican Council, Father Dave says, “They didn’t propose an actual timeline, but they created this thing called synods, that the bishops would get together. it’s not every single bishop, and it doesn’t have the same legislative or Church dogma authority, as does one of these ecumenical councils.” 

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“Synods happen roughly now every two or three years,” Father Dave says, with each synod focusing on a particular topic. He notes how Pope Francis views their importance, and the Vatican’s website on this current Synod on Synodality explains, “Pope Francis has sought from the beginning of his pontificate to invigorate and reconfigure the Synod of Bishops so that it might become more of an exercise of listening and discernment.”

This reconfiguring continued with news of laypeople, including women, having a role in the voting process in the Synod on Synodality. Father Dave says, “It’s always been the case that while people other than bishops have been welcome to contribute in the conversation, maybe even assist in writing some of the final documents, they’ve never voted until now.” He does note that it’s a smaller percentage than the number of voting bishops. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the Synod on Synodality, told journalists that “approximately 21% of the total participation” would be from non-bishops.

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Father Dave recalls the connection of synods, and especially this Synod on Synodality, to the Biblical story of the Road to Emmaus that we recently heard on the Third Sunday of Easter. “One of Pope Francis’ main metaphors for this synodality is accompanying, journeying with people no matter even if they’re going in the wrong direction,” he says. “Jesus didn’t walk up to them on the road, tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘You idiots are going the wrong way, don’t you realize I’ve risen from the dead?’ That wasn’t his approach. His approach was more, as Pope Francis would say, synodality. Journeying with them until such time as their hearts were convicted, and they had conversion.”