The "Regolamento" is officially not public

How the World Synod works - a look at the secret rules of procedure

Vatikanstadt - From A for compulsory attendance to Z for rules of celebration, the "Regolamento" of the World Synod regulates how the deliberations are to proceed: Who may speak - and for how long? How confidential are the deliberations? How are votes taken and who decides on the results? Are selfies allowed?

Published  on 07.10.2023 at 12:15  – by Felix Neumann

The World Synod meets behind closed doors. Even the Rules of Procedure of the Synod of Bishops, which has been meeting since Wednesday, are not public. In view of the hundreds of participants, the "Regolamento", as it is called in curial Italian, nevertheless quickly became public. an Italian version was already circulating on the netAn English version is available at

A look at the rules and regulations shows how the committee works - and for the first time it becomes clear what the tasks and rights of the people called in as experts are, such as the Münster professor and ZdK vice-president Thomas Söding. For the time being, the 31 articles of the Regolamento only apply to the first session currently taking place, not to the second part next year.

The Synod Secretariat was responsible for editing. This corresponds to the procedure that Pope Francis described in his Apostolic Constitution "Episcopalis communio". on the Synod of Bishops 2018 had. At the beginning of the Rule Book, the Synod Secretariat reserves the right to make changes even during the Assembly.

Roles and offices

The Regolamento repeats the already known general composition of the Synod and lists the rights of the members in the synod. What is new here is the redefinition of the role of the experts: they may participate in the plenary assembly, but have no right to speak. They may only speak in the plenary session if called upon to do so; the working groups may call them in at any time to seek their advice. Moderators for the small groups are also appointed from among the experts.

Leadership positions in the synod

The tasks of the Synod offices already listed in "Episcopalis communio" are defined in more detail below. If the Pope does not preside over the Synod himself, he delegates presidents to preside over the assembly in his name and authority. They have the express task of giving an honourific address to the Pope at the first and last sessions. In total, Pope Francis has appointed nine delegate presidents, including two women.

Sister Nathalie Becquart, Cardinal Mario Grech and Bishop Luis Marin de San Martin form the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops
Bild: ©KNA/Francesco Pistilli

Together they form the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops: Sister Nathalie Becquart (l.), Under-Secretary, Cardinal Mario Grech (m.), Secretary General, and Bishop Luis Marin de San Martin (r.), Under-Secretary of the Synod of Bishops.

The work of the Synod is led by the Secretary General, Cardinal Mario Grechthe General Relator, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerichthe the two Under-SecretariesBishop Luis Marín de San Martín and Nathalie Becquart, and the two Special Secretaries, Father Giacomo Costa and Riccardo Battocchio. Costa coordinates the moderators of the small groups, Battocchio the theological experts. The General Secretary, the General Relator and the Special Secretaries are not permanently assigned to any of the working groups, but they can participate in all of them.

Synod commissions for communication, disputes and editorial work

Three commissions will be established: one each for communications, for disputes and for the summary report which the first session will present as its outcome. The Commission for Disputes consists of three persons appointed by the Pope to take up cases of conflict and submit them to the Pope for decision. A commission for the drafting of the final document will not be established until the second session.

In the run-up to the Synod, the question of the publicity of the Synod was discussed above all. The Commission for Information is responsible for this. It is to work closely with the General Secretariat of the Synod and the Communications Dicastery and is responsible for reporting from the Synod. The Commission consists of a chairman and a secretary appointed by the Pope, the Secretary General, the General Relator and the other Synod Secretaries, as well as the Prefect of the Communications Dicastery and the head of the Vatican Press Room. The Synod itself elects seven other members representing each continent.

The Editorial Commission works under the direction of the General Relator. It also includes the Secretary General and the Special Secretary who coordinates the theologians, seven members elected from the continental groups by the Assembly and three members appointed by the Pope.

All members of the Synod are eligible for election except those already in synodal leadership positions. No one may be elected to more than one commission.

Rules for delegates

Representation and freedom of expression

The Regolamento emphasises the freedom of individual members to express their own opinions and to vote freely and according to their conscience, admittedly with due regard for the good of the Church. Although there is no imperative mandate for them, members sent by Episcopal Conferences, Eastern Catholic Churches and Associations of Religious Superiors are to take into account the deliberations in the organisations sending them. Members without episcopal consecration shall bring deliberations to the regional synodal processes in which they are involved.

Rules of confidentiality

Contrary to earlier fears, the deliberations are not formally under papal secrecy, the highest ecclesiastical level of secrecy after the seal of confession. Nevertheless, all participants are bound to confidentiality and discretion regarding their own contributions and those of others. This obligation continues after the meeting.

Participants are also not allowed to make audio or video recordings of their contributions. (There is, however, no ban on selfies.) Only the opening plenary with the introductions to the sections of the working document will be streamed live. Nevertheless, the entire Synod will be recorded. However, the deliberations are not published, but kept in the archives of the General Secretariat. The reason given for this confidentiality is to protect everyone's freedom of speech and to avoid a heated atmosphere of discussion.

The General Secretariat, together with the Communications Dicastery, appoints a team of press officers who accompany the Synod and prepare publications, but are also bound by confidentiality. Accredited journalists may only enter the Synod Hall on selected occasions, which are not specified in the Regolamento.


The attendance of individual members is checked regularly. Both the General Secretariat and the Synod Commission for Information shall always know who is present and absent. This information is also permanently archived by the General Secretariat. Anyone who cannot attend a meeting for a serious reason must inform the General Secretariat.

Prayer and Work

Rules for the liturgy

The rules for the conduct of the Synod begin with the planned liturgical celebrations. Among them are very small-scale provisions, such as the opening with the enthronement of the Gospels and the singing of the "Veni Creator Spiritus" and the closing with the "Te Deum".

Bishops and priests concelebrate at the masses, deacons take on the services assigned to them, lay people perform liturgical services as needed. For guests from other Christian communities, it is specifically emphasised that they are invited to join in the celebrations within the framework of current church law.

Working groups

The working groups are arranged according to content and language criteria. There are Italian, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish groups. The geographical diversity of the participants is taken into account in the composition.

The first part of the working document is discussed by all working groups; each working group discusses only one of the other three parts. The deliberations according to the method begin with four-minute contributions by the participants, which may be communicated in writing to the Synod Secretariat. The groups choose their own rapporteur, and the results of the groups are submitted, including the voting results and a report on consensus and differing assessments.

Plenary sessions

There is a speaking time limit of three minutes in plenary. Speakers' microphones are switched off after this time, if necessary. Those speaking in the plenary shall speak from their seats slowly enough for the simultaneous translation to follow. Multiple speeches shall be permitted, but members shall not be called upon to speak a second time until all those speaking for the first time in the plenary have had a chance to speak. The submission of one-page written contributions that are not delivered orally is possible at any time. Regular periods of silence are provided in the plenary to reflect on speaking contributions. Voting shall take place electronically.

In the synod assembly hall, everyone must sit at their seat assigned by the General Secretariat. There is a clear dress code only for cardinals and bishops: they must wear their cassock to the opening and closing sessions. All participants are required to carry their Synod ID card at all times. Only with the QR code affixed there can they enter the assembly hall and access digital documents.

The official languages for the Assembly are Italian and English. Speeches are also permitted in French, Portuguese and Spanish. German does not appear among the permitted languages, but contributions will also be made available in German in the simultaneous translation.

Pope Francis drinks mate
Bild: ©picture alliance / | Grzegorz Galazka

You might also meet Pope Francis at the snack bar. Whether mate or only Italian coffee will be served is not clear from the Regolamento.

Infrastructure and service

All synod members have their own mailbox. However, only Synod members and the Secretariat may use it freely. Outside material may only be distributed with the consent of the General Secretariat.

A lost property office, a bookshop of the Vatican publishing house, a photo exhibition with photos from the Assembly, a counter for airline tickets and a bank counter have been set up around the Synod Hall. There is a snack bar for the breaks - but there are only "modest" offers there, the annex to the Regolamento says.

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Working on the text

Five working modules

The working document will be discussed in four sections. There are four working modules, each with a similar structure: One session of the Assembly with an introductory speech by the General Relator and further introductions if necessary, two sessions of the working groups according to the method of "spiritual conversation" in which a contribution is prepared for the plenary, two or three sessions of the Assembly for the contributions prepared in the groups and finally a working group session to determine their final contribution. The working groups then hand over their agreed contribution to the General Secretariat.

The module for the summary report as an intermediate result of the first session follows this basic structure without introductory speeches. The working document of the Synod is divided into two parts, each of which is discussed according to the same procedure: Two plenary sessions for introduction and discussion are followed by a session of the working groups in which amendments are formulated, the so-called "modi". This is in turn followed by two plenary sessions, one for the reading of the supplemented interim report and one for the vote.

The method of the "spiritual conversation was explained by the General Secretariat in the run-up to the Synod and already recommended for the preparatory phases. It is based on active listening and "speaking from the heart". Before the deliberations, the participants should reflect in prayer on the questions at hand. The participants share the fruits of this prayer. Each round of discussion is followed by a period of silence before finally summarising the results of the group work.

Summary report of the first session

The Synod of Bishops meets in two sessions. The first will take place in October, the second in October 2024. The aim of the first session is to formulate a summary report which will form the basis for discussion in preparation for the second session.

The draft summary report will be compiled by the Special Secretaries of the Synod. The appointed experts are involved in this process. The drafting work is coordinated by the General Relator. In the end, the report needs an absolute majority of the Commission for the draft to be submitted to the members of the Synod for a vote. In the plenary, the report needs a two-thirds majority of the members present.

by Felix Neumann