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Synod of Bishops (Catholic)

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Title: Synod of Bishops (Catholic)  
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Synod of Bishops (Catholic)

The Synod of Bishops, in the Roman 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".[1]

Of its nature, the Synod of Bishops is permanent, even when not in session.[2][3] 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.[4] The general assemblies are either ordinary (held at fixed intervals) or extraordinary (held to treat of some urgent matter).[5]

As well as holding these periodical assemblies, the Synod of Bishops has a permanent secretariat[6] which is headquartered in Rome but is not part of the Roman Curia.[7] 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 1
  • Secretariat and Council 2
    • Secretaries-General of the Synod of Bishops 2.1
  • Powers of the Pope 3
  • Assemblies 4
    • Ordinary general assemblies 4.1
    • Extraordinary general assemblies 4.2
    • Special assemblies 4.3
  • Chronology 5
    • Ordinary General 5.1
    • Extraordinary General 5.2
    • Special 5.3
  • References 6
    • Citations 6.1
    • Sources 6.2

Establishment and nature

On 15 September 1965, as 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".[8]

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.[9]

Secretariat and Council

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.[10][11][7]

Secretaries-General of the Synod of Bishops

  • Wladyslaw Rubin (27 Feb 1967 Appointed – 12 Jul 1979 Resigned)
  • Jozef Tomko (12 Jul 1979 Appointed – 24 Apr 1985 Appointed, Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples)
  • Jan Pieter Schotte, C.I.C.M. (24 Apr 1985 Appointed – 11 Feb 2004 Retired)
  • Nikola Eterović (11 Feb 2004 Appointed – 21 Sept 2013), appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Germany)
  • Lorenzo Baldisseri (21 Sep 2013 –)

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.[12]

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.[13]


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 29 September 2006.[14]

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.[11][15]

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.[17]

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.[18]

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 Churches, the presidents (only) of episcopal conferences, three members (not ten) of religious institutes and the cardinals who head dicasteries of the Roman Curia.[19]

As of October 2014, there have been three such assemblies, in 1969, 1985 and 2014.

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.


The Synod of the Bishops has held the following assemblies:[3][20]

Ordinary General

Year Type Number Topic Concluding document or apostolic exhortation
1967 Ordinary General I Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith
1971 Ordinary General II The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World Justice in the World, Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1974 Ordinary General III Evangelization in the Modern World  
1977 Ordinary General IV Catechesis in Our Time  
1980 Ordinary General V The Christian Family ——— (1981-11-22), Familiaris consortio (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1983 Ordinary General VI Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church ——— (1984-12-02), Reconciliatio et paenitentia (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1987 Ordinary General VII The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World ——— (1988-12-30), Christifideles laici (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1990 Ordinary General VIII The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day ——— (1992-03-25), Pastores dabo vobis (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1994 Ordinary General IX The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World ——— (1996-03-25), Vita consecrata (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
2001 Ordinary General X The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World ——— (2003-10-16), Pastores gregis (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
2005 Ordinary General XI The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church  
2008 Ordinary General XII   ——— (2010-09-30), Verbum Domini (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
2012 Ordinary General XIII The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith  
2015 Ordinary General XIV The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world

Extraordinary General

Year Type Number Topic Concluding document or apostolic exhortation
1969 Extraordinary General I Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences[21]
1985 Extraordinary General II The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council[21]
2014 Extraordinary General III The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization[21] * of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization"Relatio Synodi


Year Type Number Topic Concluding document or apostolic exhortation
1980 Special Netherlands ——— (1980-01-30), Conclusions of the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands, Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1991 Special I Europe
1994 Special I Africa ——— (1995-09-14), Ecclesia in Africa (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1995 Special Lebanon ——— (1997-05-10), Ecclesia in Libanon (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1997 Special America ——— (1999-11-22), Ecclesia in America (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1998 Special Asia ——— (1999-11-06), Ecclesia in Asia (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1998 Special Oceania ——— (1999-11-06), Ecclesia in Oceania (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
1999 Special II Europe ——— (2003-06-28), Ecclesia in Europa (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
2009 Special II Africa ——— (2011-11-19), Africae munus (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican 
2010 Special Middle East ——— (9 Sep 2012), Ecclesia in Medio Oriente ( 



  1. ^ Vatican 1983, Canon 342.
  2. ^ Montini 1965, I.
  3. ^ a b "Summary of the synod assemblies", Synodal Information, Rome, IT: The Vatican, 2005-03-09 .
  4. ^ Vatican 1983, Canon 345.
  5. ^ Vatican 1983, Canon 346.
  6. ^ Vatican 1983, Canon 348.
  7. ^ a b Okoye 2011, p. 17.
  8. ^ Montini 1965, Introduction.
  9. ^ Vatican 1983, Canon 343.
  10. ^ Vatican 1983, Canon 348 §1.
  11. ^ a b Notes on the Synodal Process, Rome, IT: The Vatican, 2005-03-09 .
  12. ^ Montini 1965, III.
  13. ^ Montini 1965, X.
  14. ^ ]The order of the Synod of Bishops [Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, Rome, IT: The Vatican, 2005-03-09 .
  15. ^ Hinze, Bradford E (2006), Practices of dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church, Continuum, p. 161,  .
  16. ^ Montini 1965, VIII.
  17. ^ Montini 1965, V.
  18. ^ Okoye 2011, pp. 19–21.
  19. ^ Montini 1965, VI.
  20. ^ Okoye 2011, pp. 18–19.
  21. ^ a b c Dias, Elizabeth (8 October 2013). "Pope Francis Calls Extraordinary Synod on Family and Marriage". Time Magazine. Retrieved 8 October 2013. ...the Vatican announced [...] Pope Francis will host an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss [...] 'The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.' The meeting will take place in Rome, October 5–14, 2014... 


  • Code of Canon Law, Rome,  .
  •  .
  • Okoye, James Chukwuma (2011). Scripture in the Church: The Synod on the Word of God and the Post-Synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini. Liturgical Press.  
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