During the month of October, you might hear about the Synod of Bishops that is meeting in Rome. Two hundred sixty-two bishops have gathered to discuss the theme of the New Evangelization. Seven U.S. Bishops are attending, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
For Catholic Bishops the synod is one of the most important meetings in which they may participate. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the only official gatherings of Catholic Bishops were ecumenical councils such as the Council of Trent or Vatican II. The current synod structure arose after Vatican II. These meetings are advisory bodies for the pope, and the participants are elected by bishops from around the world. The Holy Father determines the agenda and purpose and appoints additional members to the synod.
Unlike ecumenical councils, members of the synod express their opinions on matters on an individual basis, meaning that the meeting does not usually generate decrees or resolutions. The pope can, however, grant the synod that power, and if he does so, those documents are approved and promulgated by him alone. Usually, synods are called together to address a particular theme or issue facing the church or society.
Synods offer a fascinating look into the needs and issues facing the Church in various parts of the world. If you would like to follow this year’s synod, check out the blog by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, one of the U.S. Bishops.