In the Roman Catholic Church, the Synod of Bishops is an advisory body for the Pope. It is described in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) 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."
The Synod of Bishops is permanent, even when not in session. 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. The general assemblies are either ordinary (held at fixed intervals) or extraordinary (held to treat of some urgent matter).
The Synod of Bishops also has a permanent secretariat headquartered in Rome but is not part of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis greatly increased both the authority and influence of the Synod in September 2018.
In 1959, Cardinal Silvio Oddi proposed a permanent consultative body of priests drawn from many parts of the world to discuss major concerns of the Church. The same year Cardinal Bernardus Johannes Alfrink proposed a permanent council of specialized bishops to legislate for the Church in union with the Pope and the cardinals. In 1963, during the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Patriarch Maximos IV proposed that the church should be governed by the Pope and the bishops as successors of Peter and the apostles respectively, not by the Pope and the "Roman clergy", that is, the College of Cardinals. Maximos proposed that the Council establish a rotating body of bishops in continuous residence in Rome to assist the Pope.
On 15 September 1965, as the Council was drawing to a close, Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops, noting that "the Ecumenical Council ... gave Us the idea of permanently establishing a special Council of bishops, with the aim of providing for a continuance after the Council of the great abundance of benefits that We have been so happy to see flow to the Christian people during the time of the Council as a result of Our close collaboration with the bishops." The Pope sought "to make ever greater use of the bishops' assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church" and to enjoy "the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority." This preempted action by the Council and made the Synod "immediately and directly" subject to papal authority, ensuring that it would be strictly an advisory body. The Synod of the Bishops does not constitute collegial governance of the Church, but represents a collaboration with the Pope: it discusses topics proposed to it and makes recommendations, but does not settle questions or issue decrees, unless the Pope grants it deliberative power in certain cases.
From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis expressed his desire to strengthen the collegial aspects of the Church's governance, and he argued for more recognition of charismatic gifts in the Church. On September 15, 2018, Pope Francis approved a new apostolic constitution titled Episcopalis communio (Episcopal Communion). The constitution, which was made public on September 18, states that the Synod's final document, if approved by the members with "moral unanimity" and expressly approved by the Pope, becomes part of the Ordinary Magisterium of Catholic teaching. 
The Synod of the Bishops has its own permanent general secretariat, composed of the General Secretary and a fifteen-member council, twelve of whom are elected by each general assembly and three are appointed by the Pope. The secretariat assists in preparing the apostolic exhortation which the Pope publishes on the basis of the recommendations of each general assembly, and it prepares the next assembly. Their function ceases with the start of a new general assembly. A similar function is performed by specific special councils elected by the special assemblies.
It is for the Pope to
In addition, the Pope may appoint further participants in any assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in number up to 15% of those who participate either ex officio (the heads of Eastern Catholic Churches and the cardinals at the helm of departments of the Roman Curia) or because elected by episcopal conferences or the Union of Superiors General.
The procedures followed at assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops are indicated in the Order of the Synod of Bishops, originally issued in 1969, the latest revision of which was published on 29 September 2006.
In preparation for each ordinary general assembly, episcopal conferences are asked to suggest up to three themes for discussion. After the secretariat has studied those proposals, the Pope, generally on the basis of the secretariat's recommendation, establishes the topic and agenda of the assembly. Criteria for the choice of the topic are: 1) that it be of universal, not merely regional, interest; 2) that it be pastoral in character with a firm doctrinal base; 3) that it be contemporary and urgent enough to stir up "new energies and movements in the church towards growth"; 4) that it can be addressed within the allotted time.
Most participants in the assembly, called Synodal fathers, are elected by the bishops' conferences: one in the case of a conference with no more than 25 members, two if a conference has up to 50 members, three from a conference with up to 100 members, and four from a larger conference. Other representative participants include heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, ten members of religious institutes elected by the Union of Superiors General, and the cardinals who head the Roman Congregations and some other departments of the Roman Curia. Dozens more participate by virtue of synodal functions assigned by the Holy See or as papal appointees, mostly cardinals and other curiate or diocesan prelates.
The secretariat, which includes various other clerical and lay experts, prepares a preliminary outline document (Lineamenta) which is distributed to all concerned for comment. Based on this feedback, a working document (instrumentum laboris) is prepared and distributed to all churches. This document is the basis for discussions at the synod. The assembly examines proposals (propositiones) put forward by its members and passes to the Pope those that receive the assembly's approval. The Pope uses these as the basis for a papal post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
The first general assemblies attempted to draw up their own concluding documents, but found that the time available was insufficient for doing so properly.
In view of the greater urgency that justify their convocation, the preparation of extraordinary general assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops is shorter. The participants also are fewer, consisting of the heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, the presidents (only) of episcopal conferences, three members (not ten) of religious institutes and the cardinals who head dicasteries of the Roman Curia.
As of October 2014, there have been three such assemblies, in 1969, 1985, and 2014.
Special assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops are limited to a certain geographical area. Its participants, chosen in line with the rules for extraordinary general assemblies, are limited to those directly involved in that area.
Special assemblies have been held for the continents of Africa (twice), America, Asia, Europe (twice), Oceania, for the Middle East, for Lebanon, and for the Netherlands.
|Year||Number||Topic||Concluding document or apostolic exhortation|
|1967||I||Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith||None. Called for the creation of an International Theological Commission and a revision of the Code of Canon Law.|
|1971||II||The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World||Justice in the World|
|1974||III||Evangelization in the Modern World||Evangelii nuntiandi (apostolic exhortation)[a]|
|1977||IV||Catechesis in Our Time||Catechesi Tradendae (apostolic exhortation)|
|1980||V||The Christian Family||Familiaris consortio (apostolic exhortation)|
|1983||VI||Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church||Reconciliatio et paenitentia (apostolic exhortation)|
|1987||VII||The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World||Christifideles laici (apostolic exhortation)|
|1990||VIII||The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day||Pastores dabo vobis(apostolic exhortation)|
|1994||IX||The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World||Vita consecrata|
|2001||X||The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World||Pastores gregis (apostolic exhortation)|
|2005||XI||The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church||Sacramentum caritatis (apostolic exhortation) |
|2008||XII||The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church||Verbum Domini (apostolic exhortation)|
|2012||XIII||The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith||Evangelii gaudium (apostolic exhortation)|
|2015||XIV||The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World||* Relation Synodi|
|2018||XV||Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment||Christus Vivit (apostolic exhortation)|
|Year||Number||Topic||Concluding document or apostolic exhortation|
|1969||I||Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences|
|1985||II||The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council||The Church, in the Word of God, Celebrates the Mysteries of Christ for the Salvation of the World, Rome|
|2014||III||The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization||*Relatio Synodi of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization", Rome|
|Year||Topic||Concluding document or apostolic exhortation|
|1980||Netherlands||John Paul II, Pope (30 January 1980), Conclusions of the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Netherlands, Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1994||Africa||——— (14 September 1995), Ecclesia in Africa (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1995||Lebanon||——— (10 May 1997), Ecclesia in Libanon (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1997||America||——— (22 November 1999), Ecclesia in America (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1998||Asia||——— (6 November 1999), Ecclesia in Asia (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1998||Oceania||——— (6 November 1999), Ecclesia in Oceania (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|1999||Europe||——— (28 June 2003), Ecclesia in Europa (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|2009||Africa||Benedict XVI, Pope (19 November 2011), Africae munus (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
|2010||Middle East||——— (9 September 2012), Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (Apostolic exhortation), Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana|
Whatever the merits of Apostolica Sollicitudo, it was an expression of papal primacy, not of collegiality, a word never mentioned in the text. It was a preemptive strike by the center.
...the Vatican announced [...] Pope Francis will host an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss [...] 'The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.' The meeting will take place in Rome, October 5–14, 2014...
The 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place 3–28 October 2018 and had as its theme "Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment". Its aim was to "accompany young people on their way of life towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life project and realize it with joy, opening the encounter with God and with men, and actively participating in the building up of the Church and society".Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
The Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, popularly referred to as the Synod on the Family, took place from 4 to 25 October 2015 with the theme of "the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world." It was "reflect[ing] further on the points discussed" at the 2014 Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops "so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines" for the pastoral care of the person and the family. The 2014 assembly of the Synod, called to define the status quaestionis (current situation) and to collect the participants' experiences and proposals, can be understood as a preparation for the 2015 assembly, but they are meant to "form a single organic unity." It took place in the Synod Hall in the Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City.List of participants at the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
The Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will contain "a great part of the episcopate," with many participating bishops being elected by their peers. The Synod fathers includeList of participants at the Second Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
In addition to Pope John Paul II, who served as president of the Second Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1985, there were multiple other classes of participants. Archbishop Jan Pieter Schotte, CICM, served as Secretary General, Cardinal Godfried Danneels was the Relator General, and the Rev. Walter Kasper was the Special Secretary. The delegate presidents were cardinals John Krol, Joseph Malula, and Johannes Willebrands. Overall, there were 165 cardinals, archbishops, and bishops and ten observer-delegates. No women were invited to participate.List of participants at the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
In addition to Pope Francis, who served as president of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which met on 5–19 October 2014, there were 15 other classes of participants. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri served as Secretary General, Cardinal Péter Erdő was the Relator General, and Archbishop Bruno Forte was the Special Secretary. The delegate presidents Cardinals André Vingt-Trois, Luis Antonio G. Tagle, and Raymundo Damasceno Assis. The Commission for the Message had Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi as president and Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández as secretary. Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, also participated.Plenary council
In the Roman Catholic Church, a plenary council is any of various kinds of ecclesiastical synods, used when those summoned represent the whole number of bishops of some given territory. The word itself, derived from the Latin plenarium (complete or full), hence concilium plenarium, also concilium plenum. Plenary councils have a legislative function that does not apply to other national synods.
The ecumenical councils or synods are called plenary councils by Augustine of Hippo, as they form a complete representation of the entire Church. Thus also, in ecclesiastical documents, provincial councils are denominated plenary, because all the bishops of a certain ecclesiastical province were represented. Later usage has restricted the term plenary to those councils which are presided over by a delegate of the Apostolic See, who has received special power for that purpose, and which are attended by all the metropolitans and bishops of some commonwealth, empire, or kingdom, or by their duly accredited representatives. In this article, only those modern provincial councils where the ecclesiastical province covered a whole country or countries (for example, Baltimore for the United States of America or Sydney for Australasia up to the mid-nineteenth century) are discussed, since it is only those that had de facto plenary effect. Such plenary synods are frequently called national councils.
Plenary councils should be distinguished from:
plenary assemblies such as those for Canada, India or Poland which are meetings of a number of bishops from some given territory but without the authorisation to be a council;
the Synod of Bishops in the Catholic Church being a meeting of Bishops in the whole church instituted in 1965; and
Diocesan Synods, meetings of church representatives convened by the Bishop within one diocese.Second Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
The Second Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was held in Vatican City from 24 November to 8 December 1985 on the topic of The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. The synod was a gathering of 165 bishops and other participants to celebrate, verify, and promote the council, also known as Vatican II. The participants evaluated the implementation of the changes heralded by Vatican II in the past, and discussed how best to apply them in the future. The bishops discussed topics including secularism, evangelization, the universal call to holiness, formation of seminarians, catechism, liturgy, communion, the role of the laity, ecumenism, the preferential option for the poor, and Catholic social teaching.In the months leading up to it, it was widely expected that the synod would be a showdown between the conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and more liberal prelates, like the American representative, Bishop James Malone. This led to some calling the event "Ratzinger's Synod." There was also speculation that the representatives of bishops' conferences would seek to gain more autonomy from the Vatican. In the synod's final report, Pope John Paul II included three of the suggestions of the bishops that he welcomed the most: the creation of a catechism of Catholic faith and morals, a study of the theological nature of bishops' conferences, and the publication of a new code of canon law for the Eastern Catholic Churches. A notable result of the synod was the 1992 publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.Second Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
The 1971 Synod of Bishops was the second ordinary general assembly in the history of the Synod of Bishops. Its agenda consisted of two subjects: Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World. The synod supported Pope Paul VI's stand on clerical celibacy, with a sizable opposition.Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region
The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region is scheduled to meet in Rome from 6 to 27 October 2019. Pope Francis announced on 15 October 2017 that it would work "to identify new paths for the evangelization of God's people in that region", specifically the indigenous peoples who are experiencing the destruction and exploitation of their natural environment and live "often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future".The obstacles to evangelization include the difficult terrain that makes native populations hard to reach, the great variety of languages spoken, and the resistance of landowners and business interests. The Amazon basin, according to one Vatican report, covers some 6,000,000 km2, with a population of 2.8 million divided among 400 tribes that "speak some 240 languages belonging to 49 linguistic families". The Synod defines the region to include all or parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela, and Surinam, all countries where most of the population is Roman Catholic.Pope John Paul II called similar synods for the Netherlands in 1980 and for Lebanon in 1995.Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the first of two synods popularly referred to as the Synod on the Family, was held in Vatican City on 5–19 October 2014 on the topic of Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. The Synod was a gathering of 253 bishops and other participants in preparation for a larger synod with the same theme in October 2015. The participants discussed problems facing the family today, including the effects of war, immigration, domestic violence, sexual orientation, polygamy, inter-religious marriages, cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, and divorce and remarriage. In particular, the Synod was marked by debate regarding the pastoral care of Catholics living in "irregular unions", including those civilly remarried after divorce (in particular their desire to receive the Eucharist), unmarried cohabitating couples, and especially gay Catholics. The Synod was also noted for a new prominence of African bishops.
of the faithful