Prayers welcome as Synod on Family begins

By Francis X. Rocca 
Catholic News Service

Two weeks before the start of an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, the Vatican announced the formation of a special commission to reform the process of granting marriage annulments.
“The work of the commission will start as soon as possible and will have as its goal to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony,” said a Vatican statement Sept. 20.
The new body’s work will address what Pope Francis has identified as a key challenge in the “pastoral care of marriage.”
“There is the legal problem of marriage nullity, this has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this,” the pope told reporters in July 2013.
Pope Francis related the problem of annulments to the situation of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, whose predicament he said exemplifies a general need for mercy in the church today.
According to church teaching, such Catholics may not receive Communion unless they obtain an annulment of their first, sacramental, marriage or abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners as “brother and sister.”
A proposal to allow some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion without meeting either of those conditions, introduced by German Cardinal Walter Kasper at a meeting of the world’s cardinals in February, is expected to be one of the most discussed issues at the two-week synod on the family, which opens Oct. 5.
The new commission on the annulment process, which Pope Francis established Aug. 27, has 10 members, including Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has joined Pope Francis and the office for the Synod of Bishops in encouraging Catholics to pray for the work of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will take place at the Vatican Oct. 5-19. 
Catholics can say this prayer at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/upload/September-28-2014-Day-of-Prayer-for-Synod.pdf and they are encouraged to pray the rosary daily during the synod.
Archbishop Kurtz will be attending the synod as part of a U.S. delegation of bishops including Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop William C. Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.
More than 250 participants, including 14 married couples from around the world, are expected to attend October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. In addition to the 114 presidents of national bishops’ conferences, 13 heads of Eastern Catholic churches and 25 heads of Vatican congregations and councils, the pope appointed 26 synod fathers to take part as well.
Almost all of the 26 papally appointed voting members are from Europe. Of these, none of the 14 cardinals, eight bishops and four priests appointed by the pope is from North America or other English-speaking countries.
Voting synod members include officials from the Roman Curia, heads of the Eastern churches, and archbishops of churches “sui iuris,” including Byzantine Archbishop William C. Skurla of Pittsburgh.

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