It's not going to be the panacea some liberal Catholics are hoping for.
Work continues apace for the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod–dubbed the "Synod on Family and Sex" by MotherJones. Reading other media outlets, you might think it's going to be the Synod on Letting Divorced and Remarried Catholics Receive Communion. Or the Synod on “Marriage Equality” for the purpose of reconfiguring marriage to suit any combination of the six or seven recognized genders.
Others would like it to become the Synod on Changing the Church’s Teaching on (“Repressive”) Sexual Morality.
Fortunately, the theme of the upcoming Synod offers a clue to its real purpose and direction: “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” Not quite as progressive and sexy as modernizing Church doctrines and sacramental life to conform to the sorry state of today's world.
Confusion is understandable though, given a lot of wishful thinking by commentators and even a few prelates.
A recap of what’s happened so far may help provide context.
On October 8, 2013, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will convene an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to take place October 5–19, 2014. As explained at a November 5 press conference led by Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, the objective of this meeting is “to ascertain the status questions and to gather testimonies and proposals from the Bishops.” An Ordinary General Assembly will then take place in 2015, to find “working approaches for the pastoral [care] of the human person and the family,” he explained.
The questions to which Archbishop Baldisseri referred are contained in the lineamenta (preparatory document) released on October 25. Bishops worldwide were asked to survey their flock and report back on 39 questions concerning the following topics: how the teachings of the Church on marriage and family are known, received and observed in their particular Church; what pastoral approaches are being used to convey the teachings on marriage and family and to minister to Catholics in difficult marital situations; the local reality and current and recommended pastoral approaches to the issues of same-sex unions, the education of children in irregular marriages and the understanding, acceptance and practice of openness to life.
The questions themselves reveal the Church’s keen awareness of the problems faced today by Catholics and others in a culture that largely denies the existence of universal moral norms. Forget universal. Western culture denies just about all moral standards other than radical relativism and non-judgmentalism. And this has left individuals alone in their struggle to understand themselves and "life," or alone to web- or channel-surf, as the case may be.
It's fashionable to blame "abysmal" catechesis for the current state of confusion on the nature of marriage and family. It is true that issuing beautiful pastoral statements–I'm thinking of the USCCB's Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection (1995) and Married Love and the Gift of Life (2006)–that are read by few people, is inadequate to counteract the pull of 24/7 news and entertainment that present a very different view of marriage, family and sexuality.
There was a time when religion, culture, education, government and parents in the West generally held a Christian worldview and mutually supported eachother in teaching (and enforcing) common norms. Households were large and multi-generational. Aunts and uncles and their families lived nearby, forming a safety net of love and support and serving as additional role models for marriage and family.
The process of family breakdown began long ago. In The Human Person According to John Paul II, Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield describes the effects of three revolutions in the past 150 years. The Industrial Revolution removed fathers from their homes to work long hours in factories, instead of working side-by-side with their children, teaching their trade.
The Feminist/Sexual Revolution of the 1960s allowed many women to leave their homes and children for most of the day, with positive and not very positive results.
The Technology Revolution created an expectation of instant gratification–whether the latest app, gadget or objectified girlfriend–I'm entitled to what and I want it want NOW.