Such synods are rare. This one will be only the third of its kind ever. Details from the National Catholic Register:
Pope Francis has called an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”, the Vatican has announced.
The synod, which will take place at the Vatican 5-19 October, 2014, is a means through which the Holy Father “wishes to continue the reflection and journey of the whole Church, with the participation of leaders of the Episcopate from every corner of the world,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
“It is important that the Church move forward together as a community, in reflection and prayer, and decide on common pastoral orientations dealing with the most important aspects of our life together – particularly on the family – under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops,” he continued. “The convening of this Extraordinary Synod is a clear indication of this direction.”
He added: “In this context, for individual persons or local offices or institutions to propose particular pastoral solutions runs the risk of generating confusion. As we address various pastoral issues, it is important that we move forward in full communion with the ecclesial community.”
The upcoming synod will be the first under the authority of the new General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri. The archbishop, who was previously number two at the Congregation of Bishops, is being tasked with reforming the body by reviewing the rules governing its work and making them more effective.
Reform of the Synod of Bishops was also a topic for discussion during the “G8” Council of Cardinals which met at the Vatican last week.
Meantime, John Thavis has another detail from today’s announcement:
The Vatican announcement today was accompanied by an unusual statement by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, that seemed to be a clear signal to German bishops to hold off on pastoral innovations for divorced Catholics until the synod is held.
Yesterday, the German Archdiocese of Freiburg outlined a new pastoral plan, involving prayer and conversation with pastors, that could allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
The church’s longstanding policy is that Catholics who are divorced and remarried civilly may not receive Communion because they are not in harmony with the indissolubility of marriage.
Father Lombardi said today that family pastoral questions should be discussed “under the guidance of the pope and the bishops.”
“In this context, for local persons and offices to propose particular pastoral solutions could risk generating confusion. It is good to underline the importance of conducting a journey in the full communion of the ecclesial community,” the spokesman said.
It appears the Vatican is putting the brakes on the German bishops. And it’s not the first time. In 1994, three German bishops allowed Communion to Catholics who were divorced and remarried civilly, until the Vatican intervened to stop the practice. Following a dialogue with the bishops, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation eventually sent a letter to the world’s bishops confirming that such Catholics may not receive the sacrament.