The Holy See Press Office announced on Tuesday that Pope Francis has convoked an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held a year from now, October 5-19, 2014. The Synod is being called an "extraordinary" assembly because the meeting which the Holy Father has called was not originally scheduled, and Vatican Radio reports that "the Synod of Bishops meets in an extraordinary general assembly when the matter under consideration, while related to the good of the universal Church, requires rapid definition."
The theme of the synod will be "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization." It is widely expected in Catholic media circles that one of the most pressing items on the agenda for the meeting of the world's Catholic bishops will be the pastoral care of people who have been divorced and civilly remarried, or people in other irregular familial situations. Pope Francis has previously indicated that he wants something of a Church-wide policy on how to proceed pastorally in such situations where that is possible, and the Synod of Bishops may be tasked with laying the groundwork for such reform.
Currently, a person who has been divorced and has been remarried outside of the Catholic Church without an ecclesiastical annulment (a declaration of nullity which says, to put it in overly simple terms, that their previous marriage was not valid), may not ordinarily receive Holy Communion or have regular access to the Sacraments of the Church. The Pope has expressed concern that people in such situations will simply leave the Church, or abandon their faith in God. The Church will not discard its teaching on divorce and remarriage, a teaching that comes directly from Jesus Christ (cf. Mark 10:1-12), so the bishops of the forthcoming synod will be tasked with finding a way to maintain the Church's teaching on the nature of the Sacrament of Matrimony while enhancing the pastoral care of people in irregular marital situations.
"The Holy Father is placing the pastoral care of the family at the heart of a synod process that will be larger, involving the reflection of the universal church," Father Frederico Lomardi, SJ, the Papal Press Secretary, told the media yesterday.