Frequently Asked Questions about the Twelfth Ordinary Synod of Bishops

The following is provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What is a Synod?
The word "synod" comes from the Greek words syn meaning "together" and hodos meaning "road" or "way." It means a "coming together." A Synod is a religious meeting or assembly at which bishops, gathered around and with the Holy Father, interact with each other and share information and experiences about a common pastoral issue. The work of the Synod is consultative. It has no decision-making authority unless such authority is granted by the Holy Father and its decisions are ratified by him.

Why does the Church hold Synods?
Synods are a sign of the collegiality of the Bishops in communion with the Pope. The Synod helps the Pope govern the universal Church by offering counsel.

When and where will the Synod take place?
The Twelfth Ordinary Synod of Bishops will take place in Vatican City from October 5-26, 2008.

What is the theme of the Synod?
The theme of this Synod is "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."

What role does the Pope play in the Synod?
The Holy Father convokes the Synod and establishes the topic to be discussed. He ratifies the election of members of the Synod chosen by the various Episcopal Conferences and appoints additional members. He determines the agenda and presides over its sessions, either in person or through others. The Holy Father receives the proposals of the Synod and acts on them as he deems appropriate.

Who participates in the Synod of Bishops?
The participants in the Synod of Bishops are called the Synod Fathers. The Synod Fathers include the Patriarchs, major Archbishops, Metropolitans of the Eastern Catholic Churches, Bishops elected by the Eastern Catholic Churches, Bishops elected by the Episcopal Conferences, ten representatives of clerical religious institutes, the heads of the departments of the Roman curia, and other representatives appointed by the Holy Father.

What other roles (offices) are part of the Synod?
The Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops oversees all of the administrative tasks related to the preparation for and convoking of the Synod of Bishops. Following each Synod, he prepares a report of the proceedings and preserves the acts and documents of the Synod. The Secretary General is appointed by the Pope and reports directly to him. At present, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops is Archbishop Nikola Eterovic.

The President(s)-Delegate preside over the Synod Assembly in the name of the Pope. The President(s)-Delegate are appointed by the Pope. This appointment ends at the conclusion of the Synod Assembly. Pope Benedict XVI has appointed three Presidents-Delegate for the Twelfth Ordinary Synod. They are: Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Archbishop of San Francisco); Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay; and, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of São Paolo. The Presidents-Delegate will preside over the Assembly in turn.

The General Relator prepares the introductory and concluding presentations and prepares the proposals for vote by the Synod Fathers. No General Relator has been announced for the upcoming Synod.

The Special Secretary assists the General Relator and coordinates the composition of the proposals. He may also prepare documents, reports, and briefings as needed. The Special Secretary for the upcoming Synod will be Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Congo. He replaces the previously announced Bishop Wilhelm Egger, Bishop of Bolzano-Bessanone, Italy, who died suddenly in August 2008.

Additional auditors, including experts and representatives of other ecclesial communions, may be invited to attend as well. The Holy Father has appointed two experts from the United States: Father Peter Damian Akpunonu, professor of biblical exegesis at the University of Our Lady of The Lake, Chicago, and member of the International Theological Commission, and Sister Sara Butler M.S.B.T., professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary, New York. Carl Albert Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, will serve as an auditor.

What Bishops from the United States will be participating in the upcoming Synod?
The Holy Father has confirmed the following Synod Fathers, elected by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the USCCB; Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson and Vice President of the USCCB; Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston; and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. Archbishop Basil Schott, OFM, Archeparch of Pittsburgh for Byzantines will serve as a delegate representing the Eastern Churches. In addition, Cardinal William Levada, previously the Archbishop of San Francisco, will serve as one of the Presidents of the Synod.

Who established the Synod of Bishops?
Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the spirit of collegiality engendered by the conciliar experience.

When was the Synod of Bishops established?
Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops with the Apostolic Letter Apostolica Sollicitudo on September 15, 1965.

How do the Synod sessions work?
The Synod opens with the celebration of Mass and the hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit).

The General Relator offers the Introductory Presentation. The President then calls upon various Synod Fathers to speak. These interventions may be limited as to time and, typically, only one bishop from each conference addresses each discussion topic. A Synod Father may choose to offer his intervention in writing. A Synod Father may request permission to respond to a previous intervention. The President may choose to schedule these responses in a group.

If a topic requires further discussion, the President-Delegate, with the Holy Father's consent, may establish a study commission for this purpose.

The President-Delegate may also move discussion of particular topics to small groups, typically organized by language. These small groups report their conclusions back to the Synodal Assembly.

The Synod Fathers express their consensus arising from the discussion in a series of propositions, voted on by the Synod Fathers. The propositions that receive the Assembly's approval are forwarded to the Holy Father as part of the final report. This report is not made public unless the Holy Father authorizes its publication.

The Synod concludes with Mass and the Hymn Te Deum (a traditional hymn of thanksgiving.)

Are the Synod sessions public?
The Synod sessions are not open to the public and the Synod Fathers are bound by secrecy about the proceedings and the votes. The Commission for Information on the Synod may choose to hold press conferences about specific matters related to the Synod.

What documents help prepare for the Synod?
Once the Holy Father has identified the theme of the Synod, the General Secretariat of the Synod of bishops develops the Lineamenta. The Lineamenta offers an extended reflection on the proposed theme and identifies questions for further reflection and discussion. The General Secretariat sends the Lineamenta to the various Episcopal Conferences and to the Eastern Catholic Churches, inviting the reflections and responses from these groups.

The General Secretariat uses these responses to develop the Instrumentum Laboris which serves as a guide for discussion in the Synodal assembly.

What documents come out of the Synod?
After listening to discussion in the Synodal Assembly and reading the final report and propositions, the Holy Father may choose to issue a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation reflecting on the theme. This exhortation is typically released 12-18 months after the Synod Assembly. Some of these exhortations have been very important statements of Church teaching, e.g. Evangelii nuntiandi (on evangelization) and Familiaris consortio (on the family).

When did the past Ordinary Synods take place? What were their themes?
Twelfth Ordinary Synod, October 5-26, 2008:
The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
Eleventh Ordinary Synod, October 2-23, 2005:
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
Tenth Ordinary Synod, September 30-October 27, 2001:
The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World
Ninth Ordinary Synod, October 2-29, 1994:
The Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World
Eighth Ordinary Synod, September 30-October 28, 1990:
The Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day
Seventh Ordinary Synod, October 1-30, 1987:
The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World
Sixth Ordinary Synod, September 29-October 29, 1983:
Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church
Fifth Ordinary Synod, September 26-October 25, 1980:
The Christian Family
Fourth Ordinary Synod, September 30-October 29, 1977:
Catechesis in Our Time
Third Ordinary Synod, September 27-October 26, 1974:
Evangelization in the Modern World
Second Ordinary Synod, September 30-November 6, 1971:
The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World
First Ordinary Synod, September 29-October 29, 1967:
The Preservation and Strengthening of the Catholic Faith, its Integrity, its Force, its Development and its Doctrinal and Historical Coherence