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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 17, 2024
Participants in the assembly of the Synod of Bishops gather for an afternoon session Oct. 25, 2023, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has decided that the second session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality will open on Oct. 2 and end on Oct. 27, the General Secretariat of the synod announced today, Feb. 17. It will be preceded by a two-day retreat, Sept. 30-Oct. 1

Contrary to expectations, the synod will in fact be more or less the same length as the first session. As already known, almost all the synod’s 365 members (including women and men who are not bishops) participated in last October’s synod. They will continue to focus on the theme: “For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission.”

Accompanying this news, Francis also issued a chirograph—that is a document directly written and signed by the pope—in which he announced the establishment of study groups to delve into some of the themes that had emerged last October in the first session of the synod. The study groups are to involve the dicasteries of the Roman Curia that have “specific competence” in relation to a particular theme under examination. It emphasized that the relevant dicasteries “are to collaborate in a synodal way” with the General Secretariat of the Synod, which has the task of coordinating this whole project. This means the synod secretariat oversees the study groups.

"The Synod of Bishops on Synodality will open on Oct. 2 and end on Oct. 27."

In the chirograph, Francis reaffirmed yet again what is already clear from the Code of Canon Law (Canons 342 and 343), from “Predicate Evangelium” (constitution on the reform of the Roman Curia issued in 2022) and from the 2018 Apostolic Constitution on the synod, “Episcopalis Communio,” namely that the synod secretariat is not part of the Roman Curia but is “a permanent institution at the service of the synod of bishops.” Whereas the Roman Curia exists to assist the pope in the exercise of his Petrine ministry and also serve the bishops, the synod’s role is different. It is mainly a consultative body to the pope.

The chirograph recalls that the synod secretariat’s task is to support and accompany the synodal process, “as established from time to time,” to promote synodal relations among the bishops and the local churches. The secretariat responds directly to the pope.

Francis did not specify which of the many themes that emerged from the first session will be subjected to study. This is expected to be announced soon, once a common agreement has been reached between the secretariat and relevant dicasteries (departments) of the Roman Curia, on themes and on the names of experts from around the world who may be called to give their specific contribution.

A rapid glance at the 81 proposals made in the synthesis report issued at the end of last October’s synod suggests that the following themes are likely to be among those discussed and researched in the study groups: the role and place of women in the church, including the question of the diaconate in general and the diaconate for women; the formation of priests; structures of synodality at the diocesan and parish level; the updating of the Code of Canon Law; the Roman Curia and synodality. These and other issues, also mentioned in the document released by the synod secretariat on Dec.11, entitled “Towards October 2024,” may require theological, canonical or pastoral input or development.

The latter document emphasized that next October’s synod will focus on how to live synodality at all levels in the church. It asked bishops’ conferences and the Oriental churches before the October synod to discuss at a local level how the church can be both synodal and missionary. It requested that feedback be sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod by May 15, and said that on the basis of the material thus gathered, the working document of the second session will be drafted.

Additionally, six more consultors for the General Secretariat of the Synod have been named:

  • The Most Rev. Monsignor Alphonse Borras, episcopal vicar of the Diocese of Liège (Belgium);
  • The Rev. Gilles Routhier, professor of theology at Université Laval (Canada);
  • The Rev. Ormond Rush, associate professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University;
  • Sister Birgit Weiler, M.M.S, professor of theology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú;
  • Prof. Tricia C. Bruce, president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion;
  • Prof. Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, Professor of Theology at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro.

Together with the other 10 consultors—five of whom were appointed on Jan. 10, including Archbishop Timothy John Costelloe, S.D.B., of the Archdiocese of Perth, Australia—the new consultors will assist the General Secretariat of the Synod in its activities.

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