From October 5-19, 2014, bishops from around the world will gather with Pope Francis in Extraordinary Synod in Rome to consider the pastoral challenges facing the family. A Synod is simply a gathering of bishops that advise the Holy Father by providing counsel on important issues facing the people of God.
By their very nature, the topics that will be discussed at this Synod – divorce, annulment, remarriage and others – rightly evoke passionate feelings among all people because they deal with the very fabric of the family and society. There will be extensive coverage in both the secular and Catholic press, some of which will be accurate and some of which will have an agenda behind it.
At the outset, bear in mind that this Extraordinary Synod is serving to prepare and formally set the agenda for the Ordinary Synod which will meet on the same topics in 2015. It is from this Ordinary Synod in 2015 that we will see the final recommendations to the Holy Father.
In light of this, the time is opportune for us to reflect on what we believe about the Sacrament of Marriage and the teaching authority of the Church.
While the Church can change its disciplines and practices, it is not possible for the Pope, Bishops or anyone else to change or modify the doctrines of the Catholic Church because they are truth revealed by God and handed down by the apostles to their successors.
We further recognize that of all the things our Lord Jesus Christ taught as recorded by Sacred Scripture, the indissolubility and permanence of marriage is among the most clearly stated: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mark 10:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12). What we believe can be stated simply: no power or person on earth can dissolve the unbreakable bond of a valid marriage.
This doctrine of the Church, which was given to us by Christ Himself, will never change. With that understanding, it has been the work of the Church through the ages to constantly examine and refine how we approach and minister to people so that all can experience the love, mercy and justice of God. That is the purpose of these Holy Synods.
I join with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in asking all the faithful to pray for the synod fathers and all who will participate. I would especially encourage those among us who are able to pray the Holy Rosary during the days the synod is meeting.