Jul 15, 2016

Pope Francis on Invalid Marriages

Pope Francis, speaking at a June 16 pastoral congress of the Diocese of Rome, suggested that “a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” The next day, the official transcript of the text was changed to “a portion of our sacramental marriages are null.”

The Holy Father’s initial statement, followed by its revision in the Vatican’s official transcript, caused another storm of commentary. Inspired by this papal comment, Adoremus inquires why marriages, whether a great majority or a portion, might be invalid.

A sacramental marriage is a permanent bond, one abiding “in good times and in bad.” If one or both of the parties enter a marriage without knowing of its permanence or, knowing it, do not agree to it, is the bond therefore invalid?

Responding to a question about current challenges facing marriage, Pope Francis recalled hearing “a bishop say some months ago that he met a boy that had finished his university studies, and said ‘I want to become a priest, but only for 10 years.’ It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life. It’s provisional, and because of this a portion [changed from “the great majority”] of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say ‘yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

The character of permanence in the marriage question is central today, not only in light of general confusion in the secular culture about marriage, but also as the Church in the English-speaking parts of the world begins to use the second edition of the Order of Celebrating Matrimony. How should would-be spouses understand the question, “Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?”

Canon Lawyer Benedict Nguyen answers this question beginning on page 3, “The Sacramental Validity of Today’s Marriages.”

The Editors