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Synod of Bishops, in innovation, to include facilitators; auditors abolished

May 04, 2023

The General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will convene in October, will for the first time include facilitators, the Vatican newspaper reported.

Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the General Secretariat of the Synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, the general assembly’s relator general, discussed the innovation at a recent press conference, during which they announced that 70 non-bishops will also voting rights at the assembly (CWN coverage).

L’Osservatore Romano reported that

Cardinal Grech explained that this choice [to have facilitators] was born from the experience of the Synod study groups, “which showed us that the presence of experts can create a fruitful dynamic”.

“There are bishops who have never participated in the Synod, so we need to facilitate the spiritual dimension”, Cardinal Hollerich explained.

The General Secretariat has published FAQs that explain:

Others who are not members of the assembly will also participate in the assembly. Because they are not properly members, they do not have the right to vote. These are experts (people who are competent in various capacities on the subject under discussion) who will be joined, for the first time, by a number of facilitators, i.e. experts whose task it will be to facilitate the work at the various moments of the Assembly. Fraternal delegates, members of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities will also participate.

The presence of facilitators suggests a desire on leading Synod officials’ part for a less free-wheeling—and more controlled or scripted—Synod assembly.

In another innovation, “the Synod Assembly shall also no longer include ‘auditors,’“ the Vatican newspaper reported.

Auditors—non-voting active participants—were introduced at the Second Vatican Council and have been present at the Synods of Bishops of the last several decades. Pope Francis’s apostolic constitution on the Synod of Bishops (Episcopalis Communio, 2018) provided:

Besides the members, certain invited guests without voting rights may attend the Synod Assembly. These include Experts (Periti), who help with the redaction of documents; Auditors (Auditores), who have particular competence regarding the issues under discussion; Fraternal Delegates from Churches and Ecclesial Communities not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. To these may be added further special guests (Invitati Speciales), chosen because of their acknowledged authority.

The FAQs explain that the new category of non-bishop voting members is replacing the category of auditors—and raise the possibility that Pope Francis will appoint additional non-bishop voting members beyond those selected regionally:

An additional 70 non-bishop members have been added who represent various groupings of the faithful of the People of God (priests, consecrated women, deacons, lay faithful) and who come from the local Churches. They will be chosen by the Pope from among a list of 140 people selected (and not elected) by the five International Reunions of Bishops’ Conferences (CELAM, CCEE, SECAM, FABC, FCBCO), the Assembly of Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches and, jointly, by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada (20 for each of these ecclesial realities). The territorial distribution adopted for the celebration of the Continental Synodal Assemblies of the Continental Stage was followed.

It is requested that 50% of them be women and that the presence of young people also be emphasized. In selecting them, account is taken not only of their general culture and prudence, but also of their knowledge, both theoretical and practical, as well as their participation in various capacities in the synod process. As members, they have the right to vote.

Furthermore, in addition to the 70 non-bishop members mentioned above, it is worth mentioning that it will also be possible to have non-bishop members among the pontifically appointed members.

In another modification, ten clerics from religious orders will be replaced by five men religious and five women religious:

The ten clerics belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life, elected by the respective organizations representing the Superiors General, are no longer present. They have been replaced by five women religious and five men religious belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life, elected by the respective organizations representing the Superiors General. As members they have the right to vote.

The FAQs list two additional changes:

  • “even (arch)dioceses that are not part of an Episcopal Conference may elect a bishop” to the October general assembly. Cardinal Hollerich said that “his Archdiocese of Luxembourg is one of them, along with Estonia and Moldova”
  • “the representatives of the Dicasteries [of the Roman Curia] that will participate are those indicated by the Holy Father”

In its report on the changes, the Vatican newspaper emphasized that “neither the nature nor the name is changing—which remains the Synod of Bishops.” In addition, Cardinal Grech expressed the hope that someday there will be no need for votes at Synod general assemblies: “he hopes someday ‘we will be able to do without the vote, since the Synod is a discernment, a prayer,’“ the Vatican newspaper reported.


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