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In the Roman Catholic Church, the Synod of Bishops is an advisory body for the Pope. It is described in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) as "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."
The pope, also known as the supreme pontiff, is the bishop of Rome and leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. Since 1929, the pope has also been head of state of Vatican City, a city-state enclaved within Rome, Italy. The current pope is Francis, who was elected on 13 March 2013, succeeding Benedict XVI.
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).
The Synod of Bishops also has a permanent secretariatheadquartered in Rome but is not part of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis greatly increased both the authority and influence of the Synod in September 2018.
The Roman Curia comprises the administrative institutions of the Holy See and the central body through which the affairs of the Catholic Church are conducted. It acts in the Pope's name and with his authority for the good and for the service of the particular Churches and provides the central organization for the Church to advance its objectives.
In 1959, Cardinal Silvio Oddi proposed a permanent consultative body of priests drawn from many parts of the world to discuss major concerns of the Church. The same year Cardinal Bernardus Johannes Alfrink proposed a permanent council of specialized bishops to legislate for the Church in union with the Pope and the cardinals.In 1963, during the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Patriarch Maximos IV proposed that the church should be governed by the Pope and the bishops as successors of Peter and the apostles respectively, not by the Pope and the "Roman clergy", that is, the College of Cardinals. Maximos proposed that the Council establish a rotating body of bishops in continuous residence in Rome to assist the Pope.
Silvio Angelo Pio Oddi was an Italian prelate of the Catholic Church who worked in the diplomatic service of the Holy See and in the Roman Curia. He became a cardinal in 1969 and headed the Congregation for the Clergy from 1979 to 1986.
Bernardus Johannes Alfrink was a Dutch Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Utrecht from 1955 to 1975, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1960.
The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. The council, through the Holy See, was formally opened under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and was closed under Pope Paul VI on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1965.
On 15 September 1965, as the Council was drawing to a close, Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops,noting that "the Ecumenical Council ... gave Us the idea of permanently establishing a special Council of bishops, with the aim of providing for a continuance after the Council of the great abundance of benefits that We have been so happy to see flow to the Christian people during the time of the Council as a result of Our close collaboration with the bishops." The Pope sought "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." This preempted action by the Council and made the Synod "immediately and directly" subject to papal authority, ensuring that it would be strictly an advisory body. The Synod of the Bishops does not constitute collegial governance of the Church, but represents a collaboration with 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.
Pope Paul VI was head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 21 June 1963 to his death in 1978. Succeeding John XXIII, he continued the Second Vatican Council which he closed in 1965, implementing its numerous reforms, and fostered improved ecumenical relations with Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches, which resulted in many historic meetings and agreements. Montini served in the Holy See's Secretariat of State from 1922 to 1954. While in the Secretariat of State, Montini and Domenico Tardini were considered as the closest and most influential advisors of Pius XII, who in 1954 named him Archbishop of Milan, the largest Italian diocese. Montini later became the Secretary of the Italian Bishops' Conference. John XXIII elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 1958, and after the death of John XXIII, Montini was considered one of his most likely successors.
From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis expressed his desire to strengthen the collegial aspects of the Church's governance,and he argued for more recognition of charismatic gifts in the Church. On September 15, 2018, Pope Francis approved a new apostolic constitution titled Episcopalis communio (Episcopal Communion). The constitution, which was made public on September 18, states that the Synod's final document, if approved by the members with "moral unanimity" and expressly approved by the Pope, becomes part of the Ordinary Magisterium of Catholic teaching.
Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, the first to visit the Arabian Peninsula, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.
In the Roman Catholic Church, collegiality refers to "the Pope governing the Church in collaboration with the bishops of the local Churches, respecting their proper autonomy." In the early church the popes exercised moral authority rather than administrative power, and that authority was relatively limited; regional churches elected their own bishops, resolved disputes in local synods, and only felt the need to appeal to the Pope under special circumstances.
The magisterium of the Catholic Church is the church's authority or office to give authentic interpretation of the Word of God, "whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition." According to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the task of interpretation is vested uniquely in the Pope and the bishops, though the concept has a complex history of development. Scripture and church tradition "make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church", and the magisterium is not independent of this, since "all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is derived from this single deposit of faith."
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 each general assembly and three are appointed by the Pope. The secretariat assists in preparing the apostolic exhortation which the Pope publishes on the basis of the recommendations of each 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.
The pope convokes the Synod of Bishops; ratifies the election of participants; determines the topic of discussion; distributes the material for discussion; sets the agenda; and presides either personally or through delegates.
The pope may also appoint participants of his own choosing, their number limited to 15% of the other delegates who participate either ex officio or as elected representatives of episcopal conferences or the Union of Superiors General.
The procedures followed at 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.
In preparation for each ordinary general assembly, episcopal conferences are asked to suggest up to three themes for discussion. After the secretariat has studied those proposals, 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.
Most participants in the assembly, called Synodal fathers, 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.Other representative participants include heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, ten members of religious institutes elected by the Union of Superiors General, and the cardinals who head the Roman Congregations and some other departments of the Roman Curia. Dozens more participate by virtue of synodal functions assigned by the Holy See or as papal appointees, mostly cardinals and other curiate or diocesan prelates.
Fraternal delegates from several Orthodox and Protestant churches (7 each in 2015) have observer status.
The secretariat, which includes various other clerical and lay experts, 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.
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.
As of October 2014 [update] , there have been three such assemblies, in 1969, 1985, and 2014.
Special assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops are limited to a certain geographical area, a country, region, or continent. Their participants, chosen in line with the rules for extraordinary general assemblies, are limited to those directly involved in that geographical area.
Special assemblies have been held for Africa (twice), America, Asia, Europe (twice), Oceania, the Middle East, Lebanon, and the Netherlands. Another is planned for the Amazon region.
The Synod of the Bishops has held the following assemblies:
|Year||Number||Topic||Concluding document or apostolic exhortation|
|1967||I||Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith||None. Called for the creation of an International Theological Commission and a revision of the Code of Canon Law.|
|1971||II||The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World||Justice in the World|
|1974||III||Evangelization in the Modern World||Evangelii nuntiandi (apostolic exhortation)|
|1977||IV||Catechesis in Our Time||Catechesi Tradendae (apostolic exhortation)|
|1980||V||The Christian Family||Familiaris consortio (apostolic exhortation)|
|1983||VI||Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church||Reconciliatio et paenitentia (apostolic exhortation)|
|1987||VII||The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World||Christifideles laici (apostolic exhortation)|
|1990||VIII||The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day||Pastores dabo vobis (apostolic exhortation)|
|1994||IX||The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World||Vita consecrata|
|2001||X||The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World||Pastores gregis (apostolic exhortation)|
|2005||XI||The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church||Sacramentum caritatis (apostolic exhortation)|
|2008||XII||The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church||Verbum Domini (apostolic exhortation)|
|2012||XIII||The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith||Evangelii gaudium (apostolic exhortation)|
|2015||XIV||The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World||* Relation Synodi |
* Amoris laetitia (apostolic exhortation)
|2018||XV||Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment||Christus Vivit (apostolic exhortation)|
|Year||Number||Topic||Concluding document or apostolic exhortation|
|1969||I||Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences|
|1985||II||The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council||The Church, in the Word of God, Celebrates the Mysteries of Christ for the Salvation of the World, Rome|
|2014||III||The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization||*Relatio Synodi of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization", Rome|
|Year||Topic||Concluding document or apostolic exhortation|
|1980||Netherlands||John Paul II, Pope (30 January 1980), Conclusions of the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands, Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1994||Africa||——— (14 September 1995), Ecclesia in Africa (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1995||Lebanon||——— (10 May 1997), Ecclesia in Libanon (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1997||America||——— (22 November 1999), Ecclesia in America (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1998||Asia||——— (6 November 1999), Ecclesia in Asia (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1998||Oceania||——— (6 November 1999), Ecclesia in Oceania (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1999||Europe||——— (28 June 2003), Ecclesia in Europa (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|2009||Africa||Benedict XVI, Pope (19 November 2011), Africae munus (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|2010||Middle East||——— (9 September 2012), Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
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Whatever the merits of Apostolica Sollicitudo, it was an expression of papal primacy, not of collegiality, a word never mentioned in the text. It was a preemptive strike by the center.
...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...