In October 2014, Pope Francis will convene an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The topic of the meeting would be “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. The meeting would explore the ways and means the Churches should go about showing compassion in the context of modern views and practices on sexuality. In simple words, the meeting would take decisions to relax Church laws related to marriages so that it would become easy for the Church to retain the existing Christians in their fold and convert others to Christianity.
The importance of the meeting can be understood by the fact that only three such meetings have been called since 1965, when Synod of Bishops was created. Typically, such extraordinary meetings are called when crucial decisions are taken affecting the Church in a significant way.
Francis is continually emphasizing the importance of softness in the conversation about what the Church condones and condemns. There is less emphasis on condemning and more on condoning. The Pope is cleverly exploiting the tone of the message to enhance the impact of the content. In the October meeting, the Church would take convenient positions on divorce, remarriage and cohabitation – in order to take the message of Christ to wider audience. A document with details of proposed changes has already been circulated among Bishops. The Vatican’s official position is that remarriage can only happen if a previous marriage is annulled, meaning declared to never have truly existed. Cohabitation is frowned upon.
In mid-September 2014, Pope Francis attended a marriage ceremony where live-in partners were entering into the wedlock. This is being interpreted as one of the outcome of the October meeting – relaxing rules of the Church to the marriage of co-habitating couples. It should be seen whether the Church would provide official recognition to the marriage of the divorced. Marriage itself, like communion, is a sacrament in Catholic theology, and both are a way that the faithful can experience life in community with fellow believers. Local churches currently make their own decisions about serving communion to divorced and remarried, or cohabitating Catholics. The Catholic Church has a minimal role to play as of now as it is unable to enforce theological guidelines on the masses. The Church, as an institution, is aimed at bringing the whole world under Christianity. The discrepancy between the theological guidelines and the popular practices is reducing the Church influence in the public domain. The strategy of the Church remains the same – dominate the public affairs through educational, health and cultural activities. And use the influence accrued due to social activities for conversions. The October meeting would calibrate the Catholic theology to reduce this conflict between two of its objectives. The meeting is an attempt to review and consolidate domination in public affairs across regions of the world.
Non-Christian groups point to the focus of the Church towards conversions and its readiness to dilute principles affecting the stability of family life. Catholic Church for the time being may continue to stick a common sense definition of marriage between a man and one woman. While doing so, Church leaders are providing a vague justification – “This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man, Here we see the reciprocity of differences.” But compulsions of conversions may change even that somewhere in the future.
According to some analysts, dilution of family set-up through divorce, live-in relationships are encouraged by various Christian denominations over a sustained period. Many active Christian groups in the west are advocating same sex marriages. Changing the pattern of how people marry and separate would affect the followers of other religions in a significant way. By granting official recognition to the dilutions would be seen as a reformative act helping well-established propaganda machinery of the Church. Those religions who continue to follow stricter marriage laws would be labelled as archaic and unreformable. When the followers of other religions dwindle in numbers, the Church would be ready to provide a popular alternative.