Catholic doctrine is carried out to the faithful through pastoral care by our bishops and priests. Pastoral care has been increasingly challenged more than ever in the past several decades as social acceptance of homosexuality, contraception, divorce, remarriage, couples living together before marriage, and other issues grows. Complicating matters is the fact of sexual abuse carried out by priests, thus breaking the trust of the faithful, many of whom have left the Church in disgust, and others who remain Catholic in name only. These same will attend mass for family milestones or major holidays like Christmas and Easter, but find no reason to participate in regular attendance. The warning, "It's a mortal sin to miss mass," doesn't faze them. Local Catholic parishes struggle to stay afloat. Traditional Catholics abandon their local parishes in search of what they consider more reverent "old fashioned" masses. Latin masses in the few Catholic churches that provide them are full, and many devout will travel miles to attend one. Catholic schools are no longer overflowing with students and are forced to advertise and market their benefits which must extend beyond simply being Catholic in order to draw in new families. The future of Catholicism looks weak.
Enter the Synod called together by Pope Francis. Excitement and hope fill some hearts, while worry and concern fill others. Can the actions and opinions of the Cardinals and Bishops through the Synod permissably change the teachings of the Church? There is no simple answer.
There is a difference between Catholic dogma and Catholic doctrine, and these can be complicated to define. The Church's ability to establish dogma and doctrine was given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 18:18, "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Catholic dogma, which consists of faith and morals as defined by the Church, is immutable. For example, Purgatory is a Catholic dogma and must be believed as true by all Catholics and is an immutable teaching. However, Catholic doctrines are Catholic teachings which consist of Dogma, Canon Law, and theology. Some of these doctrines are unchangeable, while theological opinions about which the Church has not made a formal pronouncement can be altered or carried out in a new way.
The Synod is a process of open and honest discussion among the Bishops and Cardinals about all the social issues facing Catholics today. These shepherds are considering how far the pastoral care of their flocks can go without stepping over the bounds of Catholic doctrine. There are no plans to change immutable teachings of the Church. However, Christ did step over some teachings of the Judaic Law in order to help those who were disenfranchised. Consider John 9:16 of the Gospel, "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.' But others asked, 'How can a sinner perform such signs?' So they were divided." Also consider the words of the Apostle Paul who teaches that all of Christ's actions are worthy of imitation in 1 Cor. 11:1, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."
I have seen and heard some Catholics expressing joy and others worry in their opinions that Pope Francis is going to change Church teachings. It can't happen quickly in any case. This is only the first of the Synods that Pope Francis plans to call to improve the pastoral care for the members of the Body of Christ.
Please pray the rosary with good meditation of the Gospel stories for the Bishops, Cardinals and Pope Francis to make wise Godly decisions for our Catholic Church through their difficult work.