Pope Benedict XVI has called for effective pastoral action to break the “vicious circle” begun when Christian couples are allowed to marry without adequate preparation and knowledge of the sacrament’s requirements.
His comments came in a Jan. 22 address to officials and lawyers of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota at the inauguration of the judicial year.
“No one has the right to a marriage ceremony,” Pope Benedict said. He noted that the “right to marriage” in canon law refers only to the right to celebrate an authentic marriage.
The marriage bond is one of unity and indissolubility. It aims for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of their children, he continued.
Marriage preparation intends to promote the “free celebration of a true marriage” that creates “a bond of justice and love between the spouses.”
Pope Benedict explained that the pastor’s pre-marriage examination of a couple is intended to determine whether there is any obstacle to a valid and legal celebration of the marriage. This presents a “unique pastoral opportunity” as the pastor seeks to lead the possible spouses to a “serious examination about themselves” and about their vocation to marriage.
He urged a “climate of complete sincerity” in these examinations that emphasizes that the betrothed are the ones most obliged to celebrate a valid marriage and should be the ones most interested in forming a valid union.
“With the various means available for careful preparation and verification, it is possible to develop effective pastoral activities aimed at avoiding the nullification of marriages,” the pontiff said. “Every effort must be made, insofar as possible, to break the vicious circle which often arises between automatic admission to marriage without adequate preparation or a serious examination of the requirements laid down for its celebration.”
He also criticized an opposing tendency which considers a marriage null only because it appears to have failed.
The Pope called on Church tribunals to be unequivocal about the essential aspects of marriage. Many incorrect opinions about the capacity of spouses to consent to a marriage remain, he noted.
"It is important to resist the temptation of transforming simple shortcomings the spouses may show during their married life into defects of consent,” he said.
Using technical language, he discussed the “juridical” aspect of marriage, especially the rights and duties of spouses and potential spouses under Church law.
There is a “real juridical bond” between a man and a woman in marriage, Pope Benedict explained. It is in this light that the right to marriage should be seen. This right is not a “subjective pretext,” but it presupposes that the potential spouses can and do intend to celebrate marriage properly, “in the truth of its essence, as taught by the Church.”
He concluded his remarks by stressing the importance of encouraging “profound harmony” between pastoral care and the juridical sphere of the Church.
The sacrament of Christian marriage is valid in situations where both spouses have the right intention and the ability to consent. Where those are sufficiently lacking, a marriage may be annulled and declared invalid. However, the high number of annulments has been a cause for concern among Catholics, especially in recent decades.