Fabene also said it was possible, even "in the near future," that religious sisters might also vote on the deliberations of future synods. Despite Fabene's remark, recent comments from the pope himself suggest that he believes the synod is a unique expression of the ministry and role of bishops.
The role of bishops
The pope has said that special consideration should be given during synods to the participation and contribution of religious brothers and sisters, consecrated men and women, and members of apostolic societies. He has also emphasized the voice of lay Catholics in the synod process.
But while the pope seems to value the consultative voice of other Catholics, he has also emphasized that bishops function uniquely as representatives of the People of God.
"Although structurally [the synod] is essentially configured as an episcopal body, this does not mean that the synod exists separately from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the entire People of God, specifically via the bishops," he wrote in Episcopalis communio.
Francis said the bishops are "established by God as 'authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church' demonstrating, from one assembly to another, that it is an eloquent expression of synodality as a 'constitutive element of the Church.'"
Pope Francis has indicated he wants the synod to reflect the "spirit and method" of an ecumenical council. While he wants to include more inclusion of the laity, the pope has made it clear that the output of the synod – the final report – should hold "a qualitative ecclesial weight."
"During every Synodal Assembly," he wrote, "consultation of the faithful must be followed by discernment on the part of the Bishops chosen for the task."
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.