The Synod of the Bishops discusses topics proposed to it by the Pope and makes recommendations, but does not settle questions or issue decrees. 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 the general assembly and three appointed by the Pope. The secretariat assists in preparing the apostolic exhortation which the Pope publishes on the basis of the recommendations of the general assembly. It is for the Pope to convoke the Synod of the Bishops, ratify the election of participants in the assembly, determine the topic of discussion, distribute the material for discussion to those who should participate, set the agenda and preside over the assembly either personally or through delegates. In addition, the Pope may appoint further participants in any assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
In preparation for each ordinary general assembly, episcopal conferences are asked to suggest up to three themes for discussion. After the secretariat has studied the proposals put forward, 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.
The secretariat 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.
To date, there have been 13 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and three Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The next Ordinary Synod will be held in Rome in October of 2015. The Synod of the Bishops has held the following assemblies:
Ordinary General Assemblies
Year, Type, Number, Topic,Concluding document or apostolic exhortation
Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith
The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World
Justice in the World, Rome, IT: The Vatican
Evangelization in the Modern World
Montini, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria (1975-12-08), Evangelii nuntiandi (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
Catechesis in Our Time
Wojtyła, Karol Józef (Charles Joseph), Catechesi tradendae (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Christian Family
(1981-11-22), Familiaris consortio (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church
(1984-12-02), Reconciliatio et paenitentia (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World
(1988-12-30), Christifideles laici (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day
(1992-03-25), Pastores dabo vobis (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World
(1996-03-25), Vita consecrate (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World
(2003-10-16), Pastores gregs (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
Ratzinger, Joseph (2007-02-22), Sacramentum caritatis (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
(2010-09-30), Verbum Domini (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith
Pope Francis (24 Nov 2013), Evangelii gaudium (Apostolic exhortation), Rome, IT: The Vatican
The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world
Extraordinary General Assemblies
Year, Type, Number, Topic, Concluding document or apostolic exhortation
Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences
The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council
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"
The Extraordinary General Assembly can be understood as a preparatory step for the Ordinary General Assembly. At last year’s Extraordinary General Assembly, the bishops defined the current state of the family and the challenges that it faces; at the Ordinary General Assembly, the bishops will formulate pastoral guidelines to respond to those challenges.
The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was held in Vatican City on October 5–19, 2014. The synod was a gathering of 253 bishops and other participants in preparation for a larger synod with the same theme this October 2015. The participants discussed problems facing the family today, including the effects of war, immigration, domestic violence, polygamy, inter-religious marriages, cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, and divorce and remarriage. The Pope issued a world survey of ecclesiastics and family members in preparation of Ordinary Synod.
The dates of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is October 4-25, 2015 and it will be held at Vatican City in Rome. This Synod will mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops. The theme of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world. The XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will continue the work of the III Extraordinary General Assembly by "reflect[ing] further on the points discussed so as to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines" for the pastoral care of the person and the family.
Having nothing to do with the Synod of Bishops, the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) was conceived by Saint/Pope John Paul II in 1992 to look at strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe. The first WMOF took place in Rome in 1994, the International year of the family. Every three years since 1994, families from all over the world are invited by the Holy Father to attend this global gathering. At the conference, families share their thoughts, dialogue and prayers, working together to grow as individuals and family units. Families can participate in discussion groups on the Christian family’s role in the church and society, led by many distinguished speakers.
Coincidentally or intentionally, the WMOF and the Extraordinary Synod follow one another. The WMOF will be held in Philadelphia in September of 2015 and the Pope will participate. Here is the schedule for Pope Francis' September 2015 journey to the United States as released by the Vatican on June 30, 2015.
Tuesday, September 22 (Washington, DC)
4:00 p.m. Arrival from Cuba at Andrews
Wednesday, September 23 (Washington, DC)
9:15 a.m. Welcome ceremony and meeting with President Obama at the White House
11:30 a.m. Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew's Cathedral
4:15 p.m. Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Thursday, September 24 (Washington, DC, New York City)
9:20 a.m. Address to Joint Session of the United States Congress
11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
4:00 p.m. Depart from Andrews
5:00 p.m. Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport
6:45 p.m. Evening Prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick's Cathedral
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25 (NEW YORK CITY)
8:30 a.m. Visit to the United Nations and Address to the United Nations General Assembly
11:30 a.m. Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center
4:00 p.m. Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem
6:00 p.m. Mass at Madison Square Garden
Saturday, September 26 (New York City, Philadelphia)
8:40 a.m. Departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport
9:30 a.m. Arrival at Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia
10:30 a.m. Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia
4:45 p.m. Visit to Independence Mall
7:30 p.m. Visit to the Festival of Families Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Sunday, September 27 (Philadelphia)
9:15 a.m. Meeting with bishops at St. Martin's Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
11:00 a.m. Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
4:00 p.m. Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway
7:00 p.m. Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families
8:00 p.m. Departure for Rome
Once back in Rome, the Pope will take in much needed rest for the beginning of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on October 4, 2015. Cardinals and Bishops from around the world will participate. Here are three controversial topics of discussion:
How accepting should the Church be to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people?
How accommodating should the Church be about “irregular” relationships, such as living together without being married?
Should divorced Catholics who remarry without first getting an annulment be allowed to receive Communion?
There will be a document issued after the Ordinary Synod of Bishops. It is common for the Holy Father to issue a substantive document, called a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. The Pope, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the worldwide gathering of bishops, will make a proclamation on these issues which the Church will follow into the future. The Church needs the prayers and cooperation from the Protestants as well as the Catholics. If attendance at the WMOF is not possible, organize revivals and prayer groups during the end of September and the whole month of October. Pray for the Synod and the family.