Law professors, family advocates and clergy have asked those participating in the upcoming synod of bishops to consider how best to help couples understand and live their marriages, in light of such negative family trends as divorce, cohabitation, and pornography. More than 40 academics signed the open letter, which has been sent to the Holy Father and to the cardinals and bishops participating in the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. “Men and women need desperately to hear the truth about why they should get married in the first place,” the letter states. “And, once married, why Christ and the Church desire that they should remain faithful to each other throughout their lives on this earth.” The letter said that men and women need to know that in times of marital difficulty the Church will be “a source of support, not just for individual spouses, but for the marriage itself.” The synod of bishops will meet in Rome Oct. 5-19, as a preparatory meeting for the 2015 bishops’ synod; it is intended to focus on the pastoral challenges facing the family “in the context of evangelization.” While much of the media coverage preceding the synod has focused on the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, the open letter pointed to a much broader array of marriage and family issues. Signatories of the letter to the upcoming synod include academics, priests and Catholic speakers, as well as non-Catholics, such as Protestant minister Rick Warren. Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, signed the letter, as did Virginia psychologist Hilary Towers. Also among the signers are Princeton law professor Robert George; Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See; Notre Dame professor Gerard Bradley; and other academics from Italy, Spain, Chile, Australia, the U.K., and Ireland. Other signatories are public policy commentators such as Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute; Mary Eberstadt of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Patrick Fagan of the Family Research Council; and David Quinn of the Iona Institute. The letter said that the family is, with the Church, “the greatest institutional manifestation of Christ’s love.” “For those who wish to love as He would have us love, marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society.” The letter suggested that married couples and their children can be evangelized through building “small communities of married couples who support each other unconditionally in their vocations to married life.” “These communities would provide networks of support grounded in the bonds of faith and family, commitment to lifelong marriage, and responsibility to and for each other.” The letter cited “dramatic increases” in cohabitation, divorce, and non-marital childbearing in the Americas, Europe and Oceania in recent decades. The U.S. marriage rate is at an all-time low, cohabitation is increasingly acceptable, and more than half of births to U.S. women under age 30 take place outside of marriage, it notes. Close to half of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. These trends are linked to poverty, especially for women and children. The trends also appear to be evident around the world. The letter said there are “significant” social costs to pornography and to “no fault” divorce laws that help dissolve marriages, “often against the will of spouses who stand firm in their marital commitment.” The letter suggested that the Pontifical Council on the Family should respond to the “marriage crisis” by conducting “cross-discipline, longitudinal research” on the role of pornography and “no fault” divorce. Other suggestions included seminary courses covering social science's evidence on the benefits of marriage and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation on society. Signatories suggested that regular prayers be said for “strong, faithful marriages,” and that more homilies address the spiritual and social value of marriage, and that more work be done to educate Catholics about the influences of both good marriages and divorces on their family and friends. The letter also said more should be done to encourage and support the reconciliation of separated or divorced spouses. Further, it encouraged support efforts to preserve “what is right and just in existing marriage laws” and to resist “any changes” that would further weaken marriage as a union of one man and one woman. “To accomplish any of these goals on an international scale would be a great step forward for marriages and families. To accomplish them all may turn the worldwide marriage crisis on its head.” “With your leadership we will help marriages to succeed and flourish by placing the greatest value on marital commitment - at every level of society, in every corner of the world.”