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Bishops’ synod taking on a less formal tone under Pope Francis

Vatican City, Sep 10, 2014 / 12:02 am .- The upcoming synod of bishops on the family will be set on a more informal tune, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, wrote in an article published in the Sept. 10 issue of L’Osservatore Romano.

Cardinal Baldisseri explained how the coming synod may be considered different from its predecessors, as well as the ongoing process of reform of the synod, whose members were made public Sept. 9.

The extraordinary synod of bishops on “the challenge of family in the context of the new evangelization” will be held Oct. 5-19, and is but the first of two paired synods.

In 2015, an ordinary synod of bishops on the family will be held, and will carry to conclusion the process of discussion began with this year’s extraordinary synod.

An extraordinary synod is convoked by the Pope to discuss urgent matters, and so it does not undergo the procedure of selection of its members which characterizes the ordinary synod of bishops.

Presidents of bishops’s conferences, as well as the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, are ‘de officio’ appointed as members of the synod, while there are also members directly chosen by Pope Francis.

Despite it is a “smaller assembly,” 253 persons will take part to the extraordinary synod for the family.

The list is composed of 114 presidents of bishops; conferences; 13 heads of Eastern Catholic Churches; 25 heads of dicasteries of the Roman Curia; nine members of the Ordinary Council of the Secretariat; the general secretary; the undersecretary; the religious elected by the Union for General Superiors; and 26 members appointed by the Pope.

In addition to these, there are 8 fraternal delegates, 38 auditors – among them 13 married couples – and 16 periti, or experts.

According to Cardinal Baldisseri, the synod of bishops is undergoing an update “within the framework of ecclesial renewal desired by Pope Francis.”

This update is demonstrated by the synod’s preparatory process, he said, and will be further seen in the development of the synodal assembly.

Cardinal Baldisseri’s statement about the preparatory process implicitly refers to the questionnaire delivered by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops for the drafting of the synod’s “instrumentum laboris,” or working document.

The questionnaire was comprised of 38 questions, posed in an unusually straightforward manner, addressing issues very pragmatically, and this can be considered a reform of language.

While there have long been questionnaires for the preparation of synods, they had in the past been delivered to the presidents of bishops’ conferences, who would in turn deliver them to the bishops, and the questions would thus filter down to priests and then to their pastoral councils, catechists, and active laity. The “chain” of transmission was not always completed, and there had always been a sort of central coordination in managing the answers from Rome.

In this case, however, the questionnaire was also published online, and the General Secretariat of the synod encouraged everyone to send their responses directly to Rome.

This new criteria of an open discussion will be now transferred to the debate within the synod.

“Our criteria is first to depict the painting, and then to put the framework around it,” wrote Cardinal Baldisseri.

The cardinal stressed that “a new modus operandi will be applied during the synodal debate,” in order to “make it develop in a more dynamic and participatory way, with interventions and testimonies.”

This new modus operandi will set the synod in a more informal tone.

Previously, the summary of the interventions, prepared by the bishops beforehand, had been delivered to journalists and were published in the Vatican web-site; same-day briefings in different languages were also provided.

Now, the interventions will not being delivered in advance since there will not be a prepared document.

The open discussion should be reported to journalist in briefings in several languages, but there will not be an official document.

This year’s synod of bishops will not even have a conclusive statement, since the post-synodal apostolic exhortation will be delivered only at the end of the 2015 ordinary synod of the bishops.

In the meantime, Cardinal Baldisseri also opened up to the possibility of a structural reform of the synod of bishops and its functioning.

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