Secretariat begins discussing new synod process with bishops

22 Jul 2021

By Contributor

Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, right, and other leaders of the synod participate in an online meeting from the Vatican on 15 June 2021. The meeting was held with presidents and officials of bishops’ conferences around the world in preparation for launching the new synod process in October. Photo: CNS/courtesy Synod of Bishops.

After issuing revised guidelines for preparing for the next world Synod of Bishops, leaders of the synod’s General Secretariat held online meetings with the presidents and general secretaries of national and regional bishops’ conferences.

Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary of the Synod, and the office’s two undersecretaries, Xaviere Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart and Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, were holding the meetings from 14 to 18 June in sessions divided by language.

In revisions to the synod process announced on 21 May, Pope Francis has asked that it begin with consultations with laypeople on the diocesan level before the discussion and discernment moved to a national level and then the 2023 synod assembly itself.

“Without this consultation, there would be no synodal process, because the discernment of pastors, which constitutes the second phase, emerges from listening to the people of God,” Cardinal Grech explained in May.

After the first couple of meetings with leaders of bishops’ conferences, Cardinal Grech said the reaction was “surprising, very positive, and there is a lot of enthusiasm among the bishops we have heard.”

In an interview on 15 June with Vatican News, he said some of the bishops, like those in Australia who are preparing a Plenary Council, already have had experience with consultation and listening at the grassroots level.

“We are sharing experiences,” he said.

“With the preparatory document that will be published in September, we also want to publish a guidebook on synodality best practices because some have already begun, but others are only at the beginning.”

But, Cardinal Grech told Vatican News, not much is set in stone.

“We have some general ideas, but we are open. This is not a fixed process, but we are listening to our partners because the synod is not a project of the secretariat but of the church.”

The expanded consultation, listening and discernment, he said, is the desire of Pope Francis, but based on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the church is the people of God.

The journey toward the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take the following path.

Opening of the Synod (October 2021)

The opening of the Synod will take place in the Vatican and in every diocese. The Holy Father in the Vatican will inaugurate this synodal path: 9-10th October. Under the guidance of the local bishop, each diocese will open with the same celebration on Sunday 17th October. 

Diocesan Phase (October 2021 – April 2022)

The objective of this phase is to consult the People of God (cf. Episcopalis Communio, 5,2) so that the synodal process is carried out through listening to all of the baptised, who are the subject of the sensus fidei – infallible – in credendo.

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops will send a Preparatory Document, accompanied by a Questionnaire and a Vademecum with proposals for consultation in each local church.     

The Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Union of Superiors General – International Union Superiors General (USG – UISG) and other Unions and Federations of Consecrated life, international lay movements, and University/Faculties of Theology will also receive this Document.

Dioceses (local churches) and Episcopal Conferences or other corresponding bodies

Each bishop will appoint a diocesan contact person (and eventually a team) for the synodal consultation; they shall be a point of reference and link with the Episcopal Conference. They will accompany all the stages of the consultation process in the local church. (Before October 2021)    

Each Episcopal Conference will also appoint a contact person (and eventually a team) responsible for liaising with both diocesan officials and with the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops. (Before October 2021)

Presidents and officials of national and regional bishops’ conferences from around the world participate in an online meeting with officials from the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican on 15 June 2021. Photo: CNS/courtesy Synod of Bishops.

Dioceses

Consultation in the particular Churches will include those groups of participation as envisioned in Episcopalis Communio, without excluding other modalities deemed appropriate for the consultation to be real and effective (cf. Episcopalis Communio, 6).     

Consultation with the People of God in each particular Church will conclude with a pre-synodal meeting, which will be the culmination of diocesan discernment.

After the conclusion of the diocesan phase, each particular Church will submit their contributions to their Episcopal Conference on a date determined by the Episcopal Conference itself. The Eastern Churches will submit their contributions to their corresponding bodies.

Episcopal Conferences or corresponding bodies

A period of discernment will begin for bishops gathered in an assembly (Episcopal Conference). They will listen to what the Spirit has inspired in the churches entrusted to them.

Participants in the drafting process of the synthesis include the contact person of the Episcopal Conference with regard to the synodal process and their team, as well as those representatives elected to participate in the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod, following their ratification by the Holy Father.

This synthesis will be sent to the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops along with the contributions of each of the local churches. (Before April 2022)

Other contributions

The Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Universities/Faculties of Theology, the Union of Superiors General/International Union Superiors General (USG/UISG) and other Unions and Federations of Consecrated life, and international lay movements, shall also provide their own contributions to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. (Before April 2022)

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops will proceed with the drafting of the first Instrumentum Laboris. (Before September of 2022)

Continental Phase (September 2022 – March 2023)

The purpose of this phase is to promote dialogue at the continental level about the text of the first Instrumentum Laboris and deepen discernment within the specific cultural context of each continent.

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops will publish and release the first Instrumentum Laboris. (September of 2022)

International Reunions of Episcopal Conferences

Each International Reunion of Episcopal Conferences will also appoint a contact person to liaise with both the Episcopal Conferences and the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops. (Before September 2022)

Pre-synodal discernment in the continental Assemblies. The criteria for the participation of the residential bishops and other members of the People of God is to be established.

The Assemblies will conclude with the drafting of a final document to be sent to the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops. (March 2023)

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops will proceed to draft the second Instrumentum Laboris. (Before June 2023)

Universal Church Phase (October 2023)

The General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops will send the second Instrumentum Laboris to the participants of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Celebration of the Synod of Bishops will take place in Rome according to the norms established in the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio. (October 2023)

Leaders of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops are pictured at the Vatican during an online meeting with presidents and general secretaries of national and regional bishops’ conferences on 15 June, 2021. The meeting was held to explain the expanded consultation process in preparation for the world Synod of Bishops in 2023. From left are: Xaviere Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, Synod Under-Secretary; Cardinal Mario Grech, Synod Secretary and Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, Synod Under-Secretary. Photo: CNS/courtesy Synod of Bishops.