VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pressure is building on the Vatican to give women the right to vote during its big meetings of bishops, with petitions, protests and persuasion all giving religious sisters hope that they will have their votes heard along with their voices.
The issue of women’s participation in the Catholic Church’s decision-making has been one of the major themes of the Oct. 3-28 bishops synod, which is focusing on how the church can better minister to today’s youth. Many young people have told the Vatican they want women to have greater roles in the church.
Sister Sally Hodgdon, the superior general of the Sisters of St. John of Chambery and the No. 2 at the main association of women religious orders worldwide, said Monday she expects women to eventually get the right to vote on the final documents that are approved at future synods.
Currently, only “synod fathers” can vote on the text, which is then sent to the pope to either approve as an official document of the church or take under consideration for a future teaching document of his own.
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Hodgdon noted the precedent for expanding voting participation was already set a few years ago when the Vatican allowed a brother — not a priest — to vote in the synod on the family. This year, two lay brothers who are superiors of their orders will vote.
“I am a superior general. I am a sister. And so in theory, logically, you would think I would have the right to vote,” Hodgdon told reporters. “But that point was not addressed prior to the synod beginning.”
She said the issue was being discussed in the synod halls, and she was hopeful.
“I believe that in future synods — I will not say the very next synod — but in future synods we will probably see a change as to who votes,” she said.
While acknowledging the Synod of Bishops is just that — a meeting of male bishops — lay Catholics and religious sisters have begun attending as non-voting experts. They are allowed to speak and influence, but not to vote.
“So we will raise the point in the future and we will hopefully move forward. And we may see women voting in synods,” Hodgdon said.
The campaign over the vote has taken on a life of its own outside the synod halls. On its opening day, a handful of activists seeking the ordination of women as priests staged a singing protest at the Vatican gates hoping to capture the attention of bishops entering.
Since then, a petition sponsored by a half-dozen progressive lay groups demanding the vote neared 5,000 signatures by Monday.
A related social media campaign inspired a group of Benedictine nuns in Switzerland to post photos of themselves holding #votesforcatholicwomen signs.
At nearly every Vatican news conference since the synod began, journalists or activists have pressed the invited guests to explain why no nuns can vote.
The bishops have generally responded by saying current Vatican rules don’t allow for it.
“We have to listen to women, but there are no women bishops. We don’t have women cardinals. We have to live with that,” said Dutch Bishop Everard de Jong.
Church doctrine requires an all-male priesthood, on the grounds that Jesus’ apostles were male. Women frequently complain they have a second-class status in the church.
Pope Francis has called for women to have a greater say in church decision-making, but hasn’t followed through with concrete gestures, though sisters note slow progress in filling mid-level positions in the Vatican with women.
On Monday, the Jesuit superior general, the Rev. Arturo Sosa acknowledged “discontent” is being heard and said he hopes it will lead to change.
“I hope that this discontent can be a help,” said the Venezuelan superior of the pope’s religious order. “It’s a sign. Discontent is a sign that something doesn’t work. So we must hear it and go forward in the ways that are possible.”