Neither the nature nor the name is changing — which remains the Synod of Bishops — but the composition of the participants in the October 2023 General Assembly in the Vatican on the theme of synodality is set to change, since a sizeable group of “non-bishop” members will also take part.
These 70 individuals will include lay people appointed directly by the Pope, 50 percent of whom shall be women and among whom shall be included several young people. All 70 will enjoy voting rights at the Assembly, which will consist of around 370 voting members out of more than 400 total participants.
These represent the main changes introduced on Wednesday, 26 April, by Pope Francis for the Synod Assembly, which will seal the synodal path he himself launched in 2021.
The changes were presented by Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Secretariat for the Synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Synod’s General Relator.
“This is not a revolution but an important change”, they specified at a press conference at the Holy See Press Office on Wednesday.
The new arrangements were communicated on the same day in a letter to the heads of the Continental Assemblies held recently in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania.
The letter states that no current regulations have been repealed, and that the 2018 Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio already provided for the presence of “non-bishops” at the Synod.
The 70 non-bishop members will be chosen by the Pope from a list of 140 prepared by the seven International Reunions of Bishops’ Conferences and the Assembly of Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches.
They shall represent “various groupings of the faithful of the people of God (priests, consecrated women, deacons, lay faithful)”, according to the letter.
The Synod Assembly shall also no longer include “auditors”.
“In this way, the specifically episcopal nature of the Synodal Assembly is not affected, but is rather confirmed”, the General Secretariat of the Synod’s letter emphasizes.
“We are talking about 21 percent of the Assembly remaining a plenary assembly of bishops, with a sizeable participation of non-bishops”, Cardinal Hollerich reiterated further. “Their presence ensures the dialogue between the prophecy of the people of God and the discernment of the pastors”.
Speaking about the requirement for half of the 70 to be women and the presence of young people, the Cardinals said this is so “because that is the way our world is”.
The choice of the 140 candidates, they added, shall take into account each person’s general culture, prudence, and knowledge and participation in the synodal process. As members, they have the right to vote.
This aspect is important, noted Cardinal Grech, adding that he hopes someday “we will be able to do without the vote, since the Synod is a discernment, a prayer”.
The five women religious and five men religious elected by their respective organizations of Superiors General ( uisg , for women religious; and usg , for male religious) will also be eligible to vote.
These 10 men and women religious replace the 10 clerics of the Institutes of Consecrated Life who attended in past Synod Assemblies.
All elections — to be held in plenary assembly and by secret ballot by the respective Synods, Councils and Bishops’ Conferences — must be ratified by the Pope, and their names shall not be made public until the Pope confirms their election.
For the first time, the Synod will include several “facilitators”.
Cardinal Grech explained that this choice was born from the experience of the Synod study groups, “which showed us that the presence of experts can create a fruitful dynamic”.
“There are bishops who have never participated in the Synod, so we need to facilitate the spiritual dimension”, Cardinal Hollerich explained.
He also noted that for the first time there will also be bishops from countries that do not have an Episcopal Conference represented at the Assembly. Cardinal Hollerich added that his Archdiocese of Luxembourg is one of them, along with Estonia and Moldova.
In conclusion, the two Cardinals agreed that “the Church will be more complete, and it will be a joy to have her represented in her entirety in Rome”. ( s.c. )
By Salvatore Cernuzio