Some Background to the Synod of Bishops

Sep 30 2014

Good day folks

As we approach the Synod of Bishops I thought it might be good to take a "look back" at the prior Synods and what they are all about.  As we hear about this synod, I will try to offer comments about what is being said.  Hopefully, this will keep us up on what it taking place.

~~Synod of Bishops
The Synod of Bishops, in the Catholic Church is an advisory body for the Pope. It is "a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world".

Of its nature, the Synod of Bishops is permanent, even when not in session. Periodically, it holds assemblies, which are either general, if called to consider matters directly concerning the universal Church, or special, if called for problems of a particular geographical area. The general assemblies are either ordinary (held at fixed intervals) or extraordinary (held to treat of some urgent matter).

As well as holding these periodical assemblies, the Synod of Bishops has a permanent secretariat which is headquartered in Rome but is not part of the Roman Curia. The Code of Canon Law's chapter on the Synod of Bishops comes after that on the Pope and the College of Bishops, and before that on the cardinals. In the Annuario Pontificio, information on it is given before that on episcopal conferences.

Establishment and nature
On 15 September 1965, when the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) was drawing to a close, Pope Paul VI set up the Synod of Bishops, convinced that the Pope needed "to make ever greater use of the bishops' assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church" and to enjoy "the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority".
The Synod of the Bishops is a form not of collegial governance of the Church, but of collaborating with the primatial function of the Pope: it discusses topics proposed to it and makes recommendations, but does not settle questions or issue decrees, unless the Pope grants it deliberative power in certain cases.

Secretariat
The Synod of the Bishops has its own permanent general secretariat, composed of the General Secretary and a fifteen-member council, twelve of whom are elected by the general assembly and three appointed by the Pope. The secretariat assists in preparing the apostolic exhortation which the Pope publishes on the basis of the recommendations of the general assembly, and it prepares the next assembly. Their function ceases with the start of a new general assembly. A similar function is performed by specific special councils elected by the special assemblies.

Powers of the Pope - It is for the Pope to
• convoke the Synod of the Bishops
• ratify the election of participants in the assembly
• determine the topic of discussion, if possible at least six months before the assembly
• distribute the material for discussion to those who should participate
• to set the agenda
• to preside either personally or through delegates over the assembly.

In addition, the Pope may appoint further participants in any assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in number up to 15% of those who participate either ex officio (the heads of Eastern Catholic Churches and the cardinals at the helm of departments of the Roman Curia) or because elected by episcopal conferences or the Union of Superiors General.

Assemblies
The procedures to be following in the course of assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops are indicated in the Order of the Synod of Bishops, originally issued in 1969, the latest revision of which was published on 26 September 2006.
 Ordinary general assemblies
In preparation for each ordinary general assembly, episcopal conferences are asked to suggest up to three themes for discussion. After the secretariat has studied the proposals put forward, the Pope, generally on the basis of the secretariat's recommendation, establishes the topic and agenda of the assembly.

Criteria for the choice of the topic are:
1) that it be of universal, not merely regional, interest;
2) that it be pastoral in character with a firm doctrinal base;
3) that it be contemporary and urgent enough to stir up "new energies and movements in the church towards
    growth";
4) that it can be addressed within the allotted time.

Participants in the assembly are elected by the bishops' conferences, one in the case of a conference with no more than 25 members, two if a conference has up to 50 members, three from a conference with up to 100 members, and four from a larger conference.[16] Other participants are heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, ten members of religious institutes elected by the Union of Superiors General, and the cardinals who head departments of the Roman Curia.
The secretariat prepares a preliminary outline document (Lineamenta), which is distributed to all concerned for comment. Based on this feedback, a working document (instrumentum laboris) is prepared and distributed to all churches. This document is the basis for discussions at the synod. The assembly examines proposals (propositiones) put forward by its members and passes to the Pope those that receive the assembly's approval. The Pope uses these as the basis for a papal post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

The first general assemblies attempted to draw up their own concluding documents, but found that the time available was insufficient for doing so properly.

Extraordinary general assemblies
In view of the greater urgency that justify their convocation, the preparation of extraordinary general assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops is shorter. The participants also are fewer, consisting of the heads of Eastern Catholic Church, the presidents (only) of episcopal conferences, three members (not ten) of religious institutes and the cardinals who head departments of the Roman Curia.  Hitherto there have been only two such assemblies, in 1969 and 1985.
 
Special assemblies
Special assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops are limited to a certain geographical area. Its participants, chosen in line with the rules for extraordinary general assemblies, are limited to those directly involved in that area.  Special assemblies have been held for the continents of Africa (twice), America, Asia, Europe (twice), and Oceania, for the Middle East, for Lebanon and for the Netherlands.

Chronology

 The Synod of the Bishops has held the following assemblies:
       Year Type   Number Topic   

       {Under each listing is the document issued by that partiuclar Synod}

 1967 Ordinary General I  Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith

 1969 Extraordinary General   Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences

 1971 Ordinary General II  The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World
         Justice in the World
1974 Ordinary General III  Evangelization in the Modern World
          Evangelii nuntiandi
1977 Ordinary General IV  Catechesis in Our Time
         Catechesi tradendae
1980 Special    Netherlands
      Conclusions of the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands
1980 Ordinary General V  The Christian Family
          Familiaris consortio
1983 Ordinary General VI  Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church
          Reconciliatio et paenitentia
1985 Extraordinary General  The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council

1987 Ordinary General VII The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World
          Christi fideles laici
1990 Ordinary General VIII The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day
          Pastores dabo vobis
 1991 Special   I Europe

 1994 Special   I Africa
      Ecclesia in Africa
 1994 Ordinary General IX The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World
          Vita consecrata
1995 Special   I Lebanon
      Ecclesia in Libanon
 1997 Special   I America
     Ecclesia in America
1998 Special   I Asia
     Ecclesia in Asia
 1998 Special   I Oceania
      Ecclesia in Oceania
 1999 Special   II Europe
      Ecclesia in Europa
 2001 Ordinary General X The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World
         Pastores gregis
2005 Ordinary General XI The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
         Sacramentum caritatis
2008 Ordinary General XII The Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
         Verbum Domini
2009 Special   II Africa
     Africae munus
2010 Special   I Middle East
      ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente"
2012 Ordinary General XIII The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith