A synod of bishops is a permanent institution of the Catholic Church. It was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965 shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and designed to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion that defined the Council.

In essence, a synod is a gathering of bishops from around the world who assist the Pope by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church. The Pope can convene a synod whenever he judges that such a gathering is necessary or opportune.

A synod is called “ordinary” if it deals with a topic that is relevant to the universal Church and seems to require the “learning, prudence and counsel” of all the world’s bishops. An Extraordinary General Assembly of bishops is convened to deal with matters “which require a speedy solution” and which demand “immediate attention for the good of the entire Church.”

The theme of the October 2014 Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” The preparatory document for that gathering defined its purpose as to “define the current situation and to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner.”

Among the issues which the bishops addressed last fall were discerning ways the Church can communicate joy to all families, including those who have experienced divorce or other brokenness. Likewise, last autumn’s gathering included consideration of how to welcome those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

In March of 2015, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, a participant at last year’s synod, articulated three core principles that will continue to guide the bishops’ work:

  • The beauty of the teachings of Jesus, especially the beauty of marriage.
  • People want to be inspired today and the "lived witness" of marriage can provide that inspiration.
  • The church must be able to walk with people who are hurting, especially divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.