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Synod confidential: The rules that will shape the assembly

The long-awaited rules governing the synod on synodality were finally released Wednesday, following the event’s opening Mass.

A session of the synod on synodality in the reconfigured Paul VI Hall on Oct. 5, 2023. Screenshot via @VaticanNews YouTube channel.

The 18-page regulations, published in Italian, consist of 31 articles regarding the Oct. 4-29 meeting, billed as one of the most important Catholic gatherings since Vatican II.

The rules cover everything from voting rules, to dress codes, to the bar service during intervals. 

Here’s a Pillar breakdown of the highlights.


Permanent privacy

The most eagerly anticipated section relates to secrecy — or what the Vatican prefers to call “confidentiality.” This topic is covered by two articles. 

The first, entitled “Communication rules,” says: “To guarantee the freedom of expression of each and every person regarding his or her thoughts and to ensure the serenity of common discernment, which is the main task entrusted to the assembly, participants are bound to confidentiality and privacy both with regard to their own interventions and other participants’ interventions. This duty remains in effect even after the synod assembly has ended.”

It adds that “recording, filming, and disseminating” speeches is prohibited.

The second article, about “Dissemination of news,” explains that a team designated by the General Secretariat of the Synod and the Dicastery for Communication will have access to the meeting hall to assist in “the work of communication,” while preserving confidentiality.

“Journalists accredited to the [Holy See] press office will be admitted to the Paul VI Hall only at the specific times and spaces that will be indicated to them,” it says.

What ‘experts’ do

Among the synod participants is a group of “experts and facilitators.” This consists of 61 people, including figures such as the papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, the Central Committee of German Catholics’ vice-president Thomas Söding, and Australia’s Fr. Ormond Rush. 

Until now, the group’s precise responsibilities have been hard to fathom. But the regulations explain that experts will work with the event’s two “special secretaries,” Fr. Giacomo Costa, S.J., and Msgr. Riccardo Battocchio

They will attend the large-scale meetings known as “general congregations,” but may speak only if they are expressly asked to. They can be called to small group (“circoli minori”) sessions to offer clarifications.

They will also help Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., the synod’s general rapporteur, and the special secretaries in producing a report summarizing the assembly’s first session (there’s a second one in October 2024). 

The regulations say that among the experts there are facilitators whose task it is to coordinate the work of small groups. 

The work of these “expert facilitators” will be supervised by Fr. Costa, who helped to devise the synod’s unique methodology, while Msgr. Battocchio, the president of the Italian Theological Association, will look after the “theological experts.”


When the pope is not present, the assembly’s “presidents-delegate” will take turns guiding the assembly. 

There are nine presidents-delegate, including the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, the U.S. Bishop Daniel E. Flores, Australia’s Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, S.D.B., and Japan’s Sr. Momoko Nishimura, S.E.M.D.

They are also responsible for offering a greeting at the first and last general congregations, as well as inviting voting members, “fraternal delegates” (ecumenical guests), and “special invitees” to speak during the larger sessions.

Dispute resolution

As at previous synodal assemblies, the synod on synodality has a three-member “commission for disputes,” appointed by Pope Francis, that examines “any disputes presented by the participants” and submits them to the pope for resolution. 

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Drafting commissions

The regulations say that a commission for drafting a final document will only be established at the assembly’s second session in October 2024. 

For now, there will be a commission for drafting a “synthesis report,” led by Cardinal Hollerich. Participants will include the synod general secretary Cardinal Mario Grech, Msgr. Battocchio, seven voting members elected by the assembly, and three other members appointed by the pope.

The regulations underline that the synthesis report is “not a conclusive document, but aims to regulate the next phase of the synod process, leading up to the October 2024 session, from the standpoint of methods, stages, and themes.”

‘Modules’ galore

The almost month-long assembly is divided into five “modules,” each of which has alternating general congregations and small group sessions.

The first four modules focus on successive sections of the synod’s working document (Instrumentum laboris), while the final one aims to draw together conclusions.

The schedule culminates Oct. 28 in a general congregation where the full text of the synthesis report will be read out, followed by another at which the document will be approved.

Who represents what?

The regulations insist that all synod members should express their opinions and vote freely according to their conscience, “always keeping in mind the good of the Church.”

But they note that representatives of bodies such as Eastern Catholic Churches and bishops’ conferences are called to express the opinion of those institutions, as reflected in consultations preceding the assembly.

The regulations say that the 70 “non-bishops” who are voting members “are called to be witnesses to the synodal process in which they took part at the diocesan, national. and continental levels.”

How small groups are formed

Participants are assigned to small groups, or circuli minori, “on a thematic and linguistic basis,” taking into account whether they have expressed a preference for speaking Italian, English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish (German is verboten.)

The regulations say that the small groups’ composition “also takes into account the diversity of geographic origin, distributing the participants who are not vested with the episcopal munus [ie, non-bishops] … evenly among all circles.”

Each circle has an “expert facilitator,” who encourages discussion using the method known as “conversation in the Spirit.”

How to speak at general congregations

At times during general congregations, voting members, fraternal delegates, and special invitees can request to take the floor and address the assembly for three minutes.

When they are called to speak, they must use the microphone provided but remain seated and speak slowly to enable simultaneous translators to relay their words in different languages (including, in this case, German).

Speakers will be reminded to wrap up 30 seconds before the allotted time expires. Finally, they will receive a message telling them that their speaking time is over.

Quiet prayer places

Participants are encouraged to visit a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved on the first floor of the Paul VI Hall, where the synod on synodality is taking place.

They can also use the nearby Church of Our Lady of Mercy in the Teutonic Cemetery for personal prayer.

Dress codes 

Cardinals and bishops are only required to wear the cassock with colored piping (talare filettata) on the assembly’s opening and closing days.

All participants must carry an ID badge, complete with QR code.

Being there 

Attendance at synod sessions will be regularly monitored, the regulations say. If there is a “serious reason,” participants can request “well in advance” to be absent from small group sessions or general congregations.

The bar service 

During intervals between sessions, participants can make use of a simple bar service. It’s unclear if this runs to a special synodal cocktail list, though presumably the coffee will be free flowing.

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