Pope turns his focus to conference on traditional marriage

A month after closing a Synod of Bishops on the Family stirred by controversy over divorce, same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships, Pope Francis will open and host an interreligious conference dedicated to traditional marriage.

Pope Francis, seated next to Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, discusses preservation of the family in Synod Hall at the Vatican in November 2014 during the opening of a three-day interreligious conference on traditional marriage. Photo: CNS/Chris Warde-Jones, courtesy Humanum.it
Pope Francis, seated next to Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, discusses preservation of the family in Synod Hall at the Vatican in November 2014 during the opening of a three-day interreligious conference on traditional marriage. Photo: CNS/Chris Warde-Jones, courtesy Humanum.it

The Vatican-sponsored gathering, on the Complementarity of Man and Woman, will take place from 17-19 November and feature more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Sikhism.

The conference will aim to “examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society”, according to organisers.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and the Rev Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback mega-church in California, will be among the participants.

Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Mercy Sr Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, whom Pope Francis named to the International Theological Commission in September.

Pope Francis will address the conference and preside over its first morning session on 17 November, following remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The conference was an initiative of Cardinal Muller, who proposed it to Pope Francis last November, according to Helen Alvare, a professor at George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, who is handling press relations for the event.

The conference is officially sponsored by the doctrinal congregation, and co-sponsored by the pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, for Interreligious Dialogue and for the Family. The heads of all four curia offices are scheduled to address the assembly.

Topics of lectures and videos will include The Cradle of Life and Love: A Mother and Father for the World’s Children and The Sacramentality of Human Love According to St John Paul II.

Given its timing and subject matter, the conference is likely to invite comparisons with the 5-19 October synod on the family. Several conference participants have already commented publicly on the earlier event.

Archbishop Chaput told an audience in New York on 20 October that he had been “very disturbed” by press reports of last month’s synod, saying, “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion”, though he added: “I don’t think that was the real thing there.” The archbishop will play host to the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis is widely expected to attend.

Rev Warren was one of 48 Christian ministers and scholars who signed an open letter to Pope Francis and the synod fathers in September, urging the assembly to defend traditional marriage, among other ways, by supporting efforts to “restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman”.