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New papal document expands powers of Synod of Bishops

September 18, 2018

Pope Francis has released a new apostolic constitution, expanding the powers and authority of the Synod of Bishops.

Episcopalis Communio, made public on September 18, contains 27 articles, which expand the role of the Synod as an advisory body and even suggests that the Synod’s decisions, when ratified by the Pope, become a part of the Church’s teaching magisterium.

In releasing the new apostolic constitution, Pope Francis writes that he hopes to make the Synod “ever more a privileged instrument of listening to the People of God.” He writes that bishops should consult with the faithful prior to entering into Synod discussions. In this way, he suggests, the Synod will be “a particular manifestation of the efficacious realization of the solicitude of the episcopate for the whole Church.”

Epicopalis Communio expands the role of the General Secretariat of the Synod, both in preparing for Synod meetings and in following up on the Synod’s conclusions. The document suggests that the General Secretariat might convene meetings prior to the bishops’ sessions, and after the Synod it would be responsible for “the implementation of the synodal guidelines.” Thus although the Pope emphasizes the role of diocesan bishops in the Synod consultations, in practice the new document appears to confer greater power on the Vatican agency responsible for organizing the Synod.

Pope Francis—who has frequently called for greater “synodal” governance of the universal Church—also underlines the authority of the Synod in speaking on doctrinal issues. He writes: “If expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff, the final document [of a Synod session] participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter.”

Appearing just a few weeks before the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to convene in Rome to discuss youth and vocation, Episcopalis Communio bears some signs of haste. The document was made public only in Italian, with translations in other languages to follow.


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  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Sep. 19, 2018 10:54 AM ET USA

    Synods with members of his choosing seem a part of a maneuver by the Pope to ultimately allow, for example, married priests in S. America and Brazil where the problem of priestly co-habitation is reported to be rampant. Perhaps it is part of a larger strategy to get beyond active homosexuality among the clergy - ignore it and hopefully the relief valve of marriage will make it go away. The Pope just wants to get along with the modern modern world.

  • Posted by: pmmillison469380 - Sep. 18, 2018 6:26 PM ET USA

    Do the people of God get to be heard on which bishops are at the synod to represent them? Apparently not.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 18, 2018 5:52 PM ET USA

    A time may come during this pontificate when a Catholic will be forced to choose between conscience and hierarchy. This is a very uncomfortable position to be in, but it is manageable. It happens at various levels already. A solidly Catholic parish can make the trials seem less daunting.

  • Posted by: Eric - Sep. 18, 2018 1:38 PM ET USA

    Hmmmm. Given the issues with the last synod where the "leadership" was accused of trying to hijack the process, I find it interesting that the Pope is expanding the power of the General Secretariat. I guess he was upset that the bishops didn't go along with the preordained conclusions last time and wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

  • Posted by: jackbene3651 - Sep. 18, 2018 11:57 AM ET USA

    Just stick to the script, PF.