Instruction on the celebration of Synodal Assemblies and on the activity of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops
On October 1st 2018, the Instruction on the celebration of the Synodal Assemblies and on the activity of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was published, in accordance with art. 26 of the new Apostolic Constitution of Pope Francis Episcopalis communio (September 15th 2018).
It is a text of an essentially practical character and, for this reason, must be read and understood together with the Pontifical Document from which it originates. Since the recent Apostolic Constitution takes the place of the Motu Proprio Apostolica sollicitudo of St. Paul VI, this new Instruction replaces the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, which in the course of almost fifty years has known different editions, the last of which was approved by Benedict XVI in 2006.
A significant number of the articles of the previous Ordo can be seen reflected in this new Instruction published on October 1st. This is a sign that the restructuring process of the synodal organism, which has been desired by Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate, is not a break with the past, but is undertaken as a sign of continuity in development.
The articles of this Instruction follow a sequential order, as shown by its two parts. The first part deals with the following themes: the Roman Pontiff; the members or synodal fathers designated for the different types of assembly; the General Secretariat with its Councils; the commissions and organisms in place during the Synod Assemblies, that is to say: the President Delegate, the General Rapporteur, the Special Secretary, the Commission for Information, the Redaction Committee for the project of the Final Document, the Study Commissions and the Commission for controversies.
The second part of the Instruction, on the other hand, deals with the procedures: it is here that, amongst other things, the discussion of topics in the General Congregations and in the Minor Circles, as well as the voting process in the Circles, in the Redaction Committee for the project of the Final Document and in the Synodal Assembly as a whole are regulated.
However, in this Instruction there are also some significant developments. This is keeping in line with the renewal sanctioned by Episcopalis communion, which in turn has incorporated and clarified the innovations actually introduced by the Synodal Assemblies themselves held during the pontificate of Pope Francis.
One of these that stands out in particular is the enlargement of the General Secretariat of the Synod. The Ordinary Council will now be made up of twenty-one Bishops, sixteen of whom will be elected by the Ordinary General Assembly. Among the latter, one bishop will come from the Eastern Catholic Churches and the other fifteen from the Latin Rite Churches according to their geographical origin: two bishops will be from and represent North America, three will be from and represent Latin America, three will be from and represent Europe, three will be from and represent Africa, three will be from and represent Asia and one will be from and represent Oceania.
As per Episcopalis communio (Article 24, § 2), only diocesan bishops may be elected. This is in keeping with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which called for the establishment of a permanent central body of pastors responsible for particular churches to assist the Pope. The elected members are joined by the Head of the Dicastery of the Roman Curia whose competency pertains most to the theme of the Synodal Assembly which is chosen by the Holy Father and by four other members of pontifical nomination.
In conclusion, more than its individual aspects, what must be emphasized is the general orientation which, in keeping with Episcopalis communio, animates this Instruction: all functions and procedures are regulated with the aim of facilitating as much as possible the debate and exchange of opinions among the Synod Fathers. This serves highlighting the richness contained in the voices of the churches scattered throughout the earth. Thus, the Synod is configured for all intents and purposes as a special expression of the indissoluble bond which unites the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in their service to the People of God.