Laymen and laywomen eligible to vote at Synod General Assembly

By Salvatore Cernuzio, 27 April 2023
Images: General Secretariat for Synod of Bishops and Diocese of Parramatta


The Secretariat for the Synod announces that 70 “non-bishop members” appointed by the Pope—half of whom will be women—will be able to vote at the Synod General Assembly in October.

Neither the nature nor the name is changing—which remains the Synod of Bishops—but the composition of the participants in the October 2023 General Assembly in the Vatican on the theme of synodality is set to change, since a sizeable group of “non-bishop” members will also take part.

These 70 individuals will include lay people appointed directly by the Pope, 50 percent of whom shall be women and among whom shall be included several young people. All 70 will enjoy voting rights at the Assembly, which will consist of around 370 voting members out of more than 400 total participants.

‘Not a revolution’

These represent the main changes introduced on Wednesday by Pope Francis for the Synod Assembly, which will seal the synodal path he himself launched in the Autumn of 2021.

The changes were presented by Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Secretariat for the Synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Synod’s General Relator.

“This is not a revolution but an important change,” they specified at a press conference at the Holy See Press Office on Wednesday.

“Non-bishop” members

The new arrangements were communicated on the same day in a letter to the heads of the Continental Assemblies held recently in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania.

The letter states that no current regulations have been repealed, and that the 2018 Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio already provided for the presence of “non-bishops” at the Synod.

The 70 non-bishop members will be chosen by the Pope from a list of 140 prepared by the 7 International Reunions of Bishops’ Conferences and the Assembly of Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches.

They shall represent “various groupings of the faithful of the people of God (priests, consecrated women, deacons, lay faithful)”, according to the letter.

The Synod Assembly shall also no longer include “auditors”.

A “plenary” assembly of bishops

“In this way, the specifically episcopal nature of the Synodal Assembly is not affected, but is rather confirmed,” the General Secretariat of the Synod’s letter emphasizes.

“We are talking about 21 percent of the Assembly remaining a plenary assembly of bishops, with a sizable participation of non-bishops,” Cardinal Hollerich reiterated further. “Their presence ensures the dialogue between the prophecy of the people of God and the discernment of the pastors.”

Election and appointment

Speaking about the requirement for half of the 70 to be women and the presence of young people, the Cardinals said this is so “because that is the way our world is.”

The choice of the 140 candidates, they added, shall take into account each person’s general culture, prudence, and knowledge and participation in the synodal process. As members, they have the right to vote.

This aspect is important, noted Cardinal Grech, adding that he hopes someday “we will be able to do without the vote, since the Synod is a discernment, a prayer.”

Five religious women and five religious men

The five women religious and five men religious elected by their respective organizations of Superiors General (UISG, for women religious; and, USG, for male religious) will also be eligible to vote.

These 10 men and women religious replace the ten clerics of the Institutes of Consecrated Life who attended in past Synod Assemblies.

All elections—to be held in plenary assembly and by secret ballot by the respective Synods, Councils and Bishops’ Conferences—must be ratified by the Pope, and their names shall not be made public until the Pope confirms their election.


For the first time, the Synod will include several “facilitators”.

Cardinal Grech explained that this choice was born from the experience of the Synod study groups, “which showed us that the presence of experts can create a fruitful dynamic.”

“There are bishops who have never participated in the Synod, so we need to facilitate the spiritual dimension,” Cardinal Hollerich explained.

He also noted that for the first time there will also be bishops from countries that do not have an Episcopal Conference represented at the Assembly. Cardinal Hollerich added that his Archdiocese of Luxembourg is one of them, along with Estonia and Moldova.

In conclusion, the two Cardinals agreed that “the Church will be more complete, and it will be a joy to have her represented in her entirety in Rome.”

With thanks to Vatican News and Salvatore Cernuzio, where this article originally appeared.


Read more about the announcement from the Synod organising committee below

This morning, Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the General Secretariat of the Synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, Archbishop of Luxembourg and General Rapporteur of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, informed the press about the Holy Father’s decision to extend participation in the Synodal Assembly to “non-bishops” (priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, laity). This choice is in continuity with the progressive appropriation of the constitutive synodal dimension of the Church and the consequent understanding of the institutions through which it is exercised.

The Synod of Bishops was instituted by Paul VI with the motu proprio Apostolica sollicitudo (15 September 1965) as “a permanent Council of bishops for the universal Church, to be directly and immediately subject to Our power”, with the task of advising the Successor of Peter, thus participating in the solicitude for the whole Church. However, from the outset Paul VI made it clear that “This Synod … like every human institution, can be further perfected with the passage of time”. The need for this refinement has emerged with the progressive reception of the Second Vatican Council, in particular from the relations between the People of God, the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome.

The apostolic constitution Episcopalis communio (15 September 2018), which transforms the Synod of Bishops from an event into a process, articulated in three successive phases (preparatory, celebratory, implementative), is part of this framework. The Assembly that we are preparing to celebrate in Rome in October belongs to the celebratory phase, in continuity with the first phase, which took place with the consultation of the People of God in the particular Churches and the subsequent stages of ecclesial discernment in the Bishops’ Conferences and Continental Assemblies. The Instrumentum Laboris that will form the basis of the work for the October Assembly is the fruit of this process of listening at all levels of the life of the Church.

This synodal process, initiated by the Holy Father, the “visible principle and foundation of unity” of the whole Church (cf. LG 23), was possible because each Bishop opened, accompanied and concluded the phase of consultation of the People of God. In this way the synodal process was at the same time an act of the entire People of God and of its Pastors, as “the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church” (LG 23).

It is in this perspective that one must understand the Holy Father’s decision to maintain the specifically episcopal nature of the Assembly convened in Rome, while at the same time not limiting its composition to bishops alone by admitting a certain number of non-bishops as full Members.

This decision reinforces the solidity of the process as a whole, by incorporating into the Assembly the living memory of the preparatory phase, through the presence of some of those who were its protagonists, thus restoring the image of a Church-People of God, founded on the constitutive relationship between common priesthood and ministerial priesthood, and giving visibility to the circular relationship between the prophetic function of the People of God and the discernment function of the Pastors. Thanks to a better integration with the preparatory phase, the Assembly makes concrete the hope that it may “an expression of episcopal collegiality within an entirely synodal Church” (Francis, Address on the 50th anniversary of the Synod).

It is therefore in the role/function of memory that the presence of non-bishops is included, and not in that of representation. In this way, the specifically episcopal nature of the Synodal Assembly is not affected, but rather is confirmed. This is shown first of all by the numerical ratio between bishops and non-bishops, the latter being less than 25% of the total number of Assembly members. But above all this is shown by the way in which the non-bishops are appointed: in fact, they are not elected by some demos or coetus, whose representation they would take on, but are appointed by the Holy Father on the proposal of the bodies through which episcopal collegiality is realised at the level of continental areas, rooting their presence in the exercise of pastoral discernment.

The Assembly will have the opportunity to reflect on its own concrete experience with a view to formulating proposals on how to proceed in the future.

The result is that, while continuing to refer to the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio, the current legislation now presents some changes and novelties regarding the composition of the Assembly and the type of participants.

To learn more, download the FAQ available in English.

With thanks to the General Secretariat of the Synod.


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