What Is the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops is a religious assembly of bishops from all over the world who gather in Rome to discuss issues vital to the Roman Catholic Church and act as an advisory body to the pope. The word synod means “coming together.” It stems from ancient Greek, and is a combination of the word “together” and “road” or “way.”

Pope Francis announced on Wednesday that for the first time at an upcoming synod, women and laypeople will be able to vote. As a result, half of the 70 non-bishop voting members will be women, and five nuns will also have voting rights.

Pontiffs periodically call synods on specific topics such as vocation, youth or the family. Preparation for such events requires years, as church leaders hold consultations and listen to their local communities before the selected bishops travel to the Vatican to gather around the pope, who ultimately decides possible changes to the church’s discipline or administration.

The Vatican has described synods as opportunities for bishops “to interact with each other and to share information and experiences, in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application.”

The church has held meetings of leaders for centuries, but the Synod of Bishops is a remnant of the Second Vatican Council, which was convened in the 1960s and steered the church toward more modern times.

The upcoming synod, the 16th since the 1960s, has the broad title “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” and will take place in October after a two-year consultation process.

Scholars say this meeting is crucial to the future of the church. Instead of focusing on single issues like the family or youth, as in the recent past, this synod is expected to discuss divisive issues like women’s role in the church and L.G.B.T.Q. relationships.

“The church that we are called to dream and build is a community of women and men drawn together in communion by the one faith, our common Baptism and the same Eucharist,” Cardinal Mario Grech, the synod’s secretary general, wrote in describing the goal of the next gathering.

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