Pope Francis said Thursday that the great majority of sacramental marriages today are not valid, because couples do not enter into them with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment. “We live in a culture of the provisional,” the Pope said in impromptu remarks June 16. After addressing the Diocese of Rome’s pastoral congress, he held a question-and-answer session. A layman asked about the “crisis of marriage” and how Catholics can help educate youth in love, help them learn about sacramental marriage, and help them overcome “their resistance, delusions and fears.” The Pope answered from his own experience. “I heard 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,” he said. “It’s provisional, and because of this 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.” He spoke of his encounter with a woman in Buenos Aires who “reproached” him. She said that priests study for the priesthood for years and can get permission to leave the priesthood to marry and have a family. For the laity, this woman said, “we have to do the sacrament for our entire lives, and indissolubly, to us laity they give four (marriage preparation) conferences, and this is for our entire life.”
UPDATE: Canon lawyer Ed Peters has a few thoughts on this. In a nutshell, he disagrees:
Beyond the arresting scope of the claim that nullity is rampant, there is the debilitating effect that such a view can and doubtless will have on couples in difficult marriage situations. After all, if “the great majority” of Christian marriages are, as alleged by Francis, already null, then couples struggling in difficult marriages and looking for the bread of spiritual and sacramental encouragement may instead be offered stones of despair—‘your marriage is most likely null, so give up now and save everyone a lot of time and trouble.’ …Let me just say that I believe that the great majority of Christian marriages are valid, that a matrimonial contract was therefore effected between the parties at the time of their wedding, and that by the will of Christ an indissoluble sacramental bond simultaneously arose between those spouses. To be clear, I also hold that many marriages are (and could be proven to be) canonically null and that the percentage of null marriages has indeed risen over recent decades, but I can and do reject anyone’s claim that the majority, let alone “the great majority”, of Christian marriages are null.
UPDATE II: The Vatican has now “revised” the pontiff’s remarks. From CNS:
The idea of commitments being temporary “occurs everywhere, even in priestly and religious life. The provisional. And for this reason a large majority of sacramental marriages are null. They say ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they do not know what they are saying because they have a different culture,” he said. The Vatican press office, publishing a transcript the next day, adjusted the pope’s words to read, “A part of our sacramental marriages are null because they (the spouses) say, ‘Yes, for my whole life,’ but they do not know what they are saying because they have a different culture.” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said transcripts of the pope’s off-the-cuff remarks always are reviewed for precision and clarity prior to publication. “When dealing with particularly important topics, the revised text always is given to the pope himself. That happened in this case, therefore the published text was approved expressly by the pope.”