Synod of Bishops in the Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, the Synod of Bishops, considered as an advisory body for the pope, is one of the ways in which the bishops render cooperative assistance to him in exercising his office.[1] It is described in the 1983 Code of Canon Law as "a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world."[2]

In addition, each patriarchal church and each major archiepiscopal church within the Catholic Church has its own synod of bishops. Unlike the body that normally assists the pope only by offering advice, these synods of bishops are competent, and exclusively so, to make laws for the entire sui iuris church that each governs.[3] The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches makes mention 115 times of the "synod of bishops" in this sense and only once (canon 46) mentions the synod of bishops that the pope convokes.

These synods of bishops are not what in Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches are called Holy Synods. The latter concept corresponds instead to that of the standing synod of these Catholic synods of bishops, which consists of the patriarch or major archbishop and four bishops appointed for a five-year term. Of the four, three are elected by the church's synod of bishops and one is appointed by the patriarch or major archbishop, while another four are designated in the same way to replace any member who is impeded.[4] A meeting of a whole synod of bishops is called when a decision is required on a question that only the synod of bishops is authorized to decide, or when the patriarch or major archbishop, with the agreement of the standing synod, judges it to be necessary, or when at least one third of the bishops request that it be held to consider some specific matter. In addition, the individual canon law of some patriarchal and major archiepiscopal churches requires that the synod of bishops be convoked at predetermined intervals.[5]

The papal Synod of Bishops is permanent, even when not in session.[6][7] Periodically, it holds assemblies, which are either general, if called to consider matters directly concerning the universal Church, or special, if called for problems of a particular geographical area.[8] The general assemblies are either ordinary (held at fixed intervals) or extraordinary (held to treat of some urgent matter).[9]

The papal Synod of Bishops also has a permanent secretariat[10] headquartered in Rome but not part of the Roman Curia.[11] Pope Francis greatly increased both the authority and influence of the Synod in September 2018.[12]