VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday opened a three-week synod, or assembly of Roman Catholic bishops, to discuss the future of the Church in the Amazon.
The synod is shaping up to be one of the most contentious in recent years as hardline conservatives, though a small minority in the 1.3 billion-member Church, have received much attention in the media. They say parts of its working document, including the possibility of ordaining married men as priests in the Amazon, are “heretical”.
Here are some facts about the synod:
WHAT IS A SYNOD?
Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965 at the end of the Second Vatican Council as a consultative body that meets every few years on a different topic. It has no decision-making power but is a vehicle intended to assist the pope in Church governance and policy.
Apart from its opening and closing ceremonies and the daily prayers, it is closed to the public, though the Vatican press office will provide regular briefings during the three weeks.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THIS SYNOD?
Some 260 participants, most of them bishops from the vast Amazon region, will meet in an amphitheatre-type auditorium and surrounding rooms in the Vatican for this synod, whose theme is ‘The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology’.
They will deliver speeches on various topics, and later break up into small discussion groups.
The focus of their deliberations will be a working document known by its Latin name “instrumentum laboris”, which is based on material accumulated during hundreds of meetings over 18 months leading up to the synod.
The document explores how to give a greater voice to the people of the Amazon, confronting environmental devastation, how to deal with an acute shortage of priests in the region, including the possibility of ordaining older married men who are pillars of their community, and allowing women a bigger role.
Committees will compile a final report that will be voted on point by point and published.
WHAT IS THE POPE’S ROLE IN THE SYNOD?
The pope has the title of president of the synod but others run the daily proceedings. He sits in on most of the plenary meetings and takes notes but usually does not intervene in a major way except at the beginning and the end.
The pope is free to ignore any recommendations in the final document. Usually, however, he uses it and the deliberations he has heard to write his own document, known as an “Apostolic Exhortation”.