For the first time, women will be allowed to vote at an upcoming gathering of Catholic leaders, the Vatican announced Wednesday.

Pope Francis approved the historic reform himself, choosing to allow women and other laypeople to play a more significant role in the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October.

The changes reflect “his hopes to give women greater decision-making responsibilities and laypeople more say in the life of the Catholic Church,” The Associated Press reported.

How Catholics reacted

Leaders of Catholic women’s groups praised the pope’s decision in interviews with The Associated Press, describing it as a long-awaited victory in the push to give women more power over church affairs.

“This is a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling, and the result of sustained advocacy,” said Kate McElwee of the Women’s Ordination Conference.

But other Catholics have downplayed the significance of the shift, noting that bishops and other ordained (male) leaders will remain the dominant voices at the upcoming meeting.

“It’s an important change, it’s not a revolution,” said Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, a top organizer of the synod, to The Associated Press.

Related
Pope Francis says homosexuality is a sin, not a crime in new interview
Do Americans’ assumptions about morality make us unique?

What is the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops is a group of Catholic leaders that meets periodically to discuss issues of concern to the pope and others at the Vatican.

This year’s gathering will focus on how to “foster greater involvement” from church members in the future of the Catholic Church, according to The New York Times.

Although the Synod of Bishops in the past was comprised primarily of Catholic bishops, the new guidance from Pope Francis makes room for 70 new voting participants and emphasizes the importance of inviting women and young people, in particular.

“Women had participated as auditors in past synods,” the Times reported.

What has Pope Francis done for women?

The pope’s move to allow women to play a more significant role at October’s meeting follows similar decisions and comments from him in the past.

Although Pope Francis has not lifted his church’s ban on women’s ordination, he has “done more than any pope in recent time to give women greater say in decision-making roles,” The Associated Press reported.

“He has appointed several women to high-ranking Vatican positions, though no women head any of the major Vatican offices or departments,” the article said.