Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy, spoke this weekend on issues surrounding the family and the upcoming Synod of Bishops, saying the synod is unable to change Church teaching.

Church teaching, he said, referencing papal documents such as those of St. John Paul II on marriage and family, can't be "abdicated, (because) it's based on the teachings of Christ."

"Christ is very clear about divorce, very clear about adultery; and not quite as important, but still very important, St. Paul is explicit about the conditions that are required for proper reception of communion."

When it comes to October's Synod of Bishops on the Family, the cardinal said he expects "the synod will massively endorse the tradition" of the Church's teachings on these issues.

There is a great desire to help people and to be compassionate, and these are things everyone wants, he noted, saying he believes synod delegates "will recognize that the Christian tradition of St. John Paul the Great, Benedict, the Council of Trent, is well established … and I don't anticipate any deviation of that."

Cardinal Pell was answering questions after addressing participants of the May 9 Voice of the Family's Rome Life Forum.

The event was sponsored by Lifesite News, Human Life International, Associazione Famiglia Domani, Family Life International New Zealand and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

When asked if a merciful response to divorced and remarried Catholics would mean a return to strict practices of the early Christian community – which included keeping an adulterer away from the rest of the community even after making an act of repentance – Cardinal Pell said going back to "these very stiff disciplines" isn't the answer.

However, he also stressed the importance of defending the values we hold dear.

If there are no consequences for doing something wrong, then "we send the wrong message, and that's not merciful in the long run."

Using the example of a ship stranded at sea, the cardinal noted how "some people have been saying the role of the Church is to help those people who are in the life boats."

Although reaching them is important, a bigger concern for the Church now "is to guide the big ships, the liners, so that they're not shipwrecked, so that they don't need to get into the lifeboats."

"We defend through the law that which we value; and to deny that will increase the decline and the slide in the wrong direction."

In his speech for the event, the cardinal focused on the role of parents as the primary educators of their children. He highlighted various current sociological and moral challenges which frequently prevent parents from effectively educating their children in the faith.

Among the sociological changes Cardinal Pell mentioned were increased use of technology, television, radio and the internet, which provides easy access to immoral content such as pornography.

He noted how fewer people are getting married, and that many marriages have been "destroyed" by the use of pornography. He also pointed to the phenomenon of "sexting" – the sending of sexually explicit images or messages via cell phones – as particularly damaging to adolescents.

Changes in moral thinking have been the cause of many of the sociological changes the world has seen, the cardinal said, pointing to what Benedict VXI described as the "dictatorship of relativism" lies at the root of these moral changes.

Tolerance of others' views and opinions is good, he said, but when tolerance is based on the belief that there is no objective truth and that each "unprovable moral conviction" is just as valid as all the rest, "we deprive ourselves not only of the legitimation of human rights, we deprive ourselves also of the foundations of much of our sexual legislation."

When parents themselves become moral relativists, they lose the authority and foundation needed in order to instill moral and religious convictions into their children, the cardinal explained.

"No parent should forget to show and teach their children that the way to growth, both personal and community, is through fidelity to the core teachings of Christ and the Church," he said.

Those who downplay the demands of the faith and family that Christ himself enjoyed as a child are only "increasing and hastening the exodus."