Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, has emphasized that the next synod will not be focused exclusively on the much-talked about issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried.

"I would like to remind you that the next assembly of the synod of bishops is titled 'the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.' So the synod will deal with the family in its various aspects – not with a single issue," the cardinal said in a May 20 email interview with CNA.

"In my view, a good service for people would be that of giving each issue regarding the family the same 'space' for discussion."

The year leading up to the Oct. 5-19 synod on the family has been marked by media speculation that it will be dedicated to discovering a "pastoral solution" allowing for the admittance of persons who are divorced and civilly remarried, while their spouse is still living, to Communion, while also preserving Catholic teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

"Regarding the possibility for the synod of bishops of changing the doctrine of the Church," Cardinal Baldisseri said, "I underscore that the First Vatican Council's document 'Dei Filius' affirmed that 'understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.'"

The cardinal then continued: "And I also remind you that John XXIII said in the inaugural speech of the Second Vatican Council that 'authentic doctrine … should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.'"

While comments from a number of German bishops have sparked a media frenzy and calls for the Church to change its teachings on Communion for the divorced and remarried, the synod of bishops is intended to reflect the collegiality of the universal Church.

In parts of Africa, polygamy has been a concern for the Church, with the Kenyan president recently signing a law legalizing the practice, which was already part of the customary law of some peoples. Other concerns from across the globe include the practices of cohabitation and contraception, forced marriages, a lack of adequate marriage preparation and Catholic education of children.

Cardinal Baldisseri discussed the various aspects facing families and evangelization – and the importance of giving them "the same 'space' for discussion" in the context of a preparatory document of an advisory nature sent to bishops around the world.

"This is what we have done, and in fact the preparatory document of the synod includes an 8-point questionnaire."

The eight points in the questionnaire "deal broadly with the theme of family," he said. "First, the beauty and values of the family, which is the union of a man and a woman willing to have children. The other kind of 'unions' are described as a social phenomenon, currently particularly strong, especially in the Western world. We should attentively look at this phenomenon for the Church's pastoral purpose."

"The issue of cohabitation, unmarried couples, same-sex marriages emerge," he added. "There are also topics dealing with the knowledge, and the reception, of the teaching of the Church on the family; with natural law … with difficult family situations, dealing with separated couples, the divorced, and the divorced and remarried; and above all dealing with the children who are subjected to these situations, and their Christian education."

The synod of bishops, which acts as an advisory body to the Pope, was established by Paul VI in 1965 by the motu proprio 'Apostolica sollicitudo' to "strengthen (the Pope's) union" with other bishops and to "establish even closer ties" with them.

The synod consists of a group of bishops from around the world who meet at fixed times "to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel … and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world," according to canon law.

A synod's conclusions are typically presented in the form of an apostolic exhortation issued by the Pope.

Cardinal Baldisseri noted that 2015 "will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the synod of bishops; so the synod has already paved a long road."

He noted that "the synod acts under a regulation called the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum."

The document was issued by Benedict XVI in 2006 to update previous rules with current canon law.

"According to the Ordo, there can be ordinary, extraordinary, and special assemblies (of the synod). Its main goal is the exercise of collegiality 'sub Petro et cum Petro,' i.e. assisting the Pope in his capacity as universal shepherd of the Church."

Cardinal Baldisseri noted that "Pope Francis wanted to reinforce the synod by elevating the under-secretary to the rank of bishop, in order to further show the 'solicitude of the Churches' for each and every bishop in the Church."

The synod's under-secretary, Fr. Fabio Fabene, was appointed Feb. 8, and will be consecrated a bishop May 30.

"The synod of bishops is therefore the highest tool of collegiality, after an ecumenical council."

The synod has met periodically since its establishment, often every few years. The last synod met in October, 2012, and was concerned with the new evangelization.