The Vatican on Friday revised the remarks in the official transcript, with Pope Francis’ approval. The text was changed to say that “a portion” of marriages today are null, not a “great majority.”
Many couples “don’t know what the sacrament is,” the Pope said on Thursday. “They don’t know that it’s indissoluble, they don’t know that it’s for your entire life. It’s hard.” Pope Francis faulted, in part, lack of good marriage preparation in teaching engaged couples about the truth of marriage.
In his impromptu comments, the Holy Father was not declaring any particular marriages to be invalid, as Church tribunals do when they establish that a marriage never actually existed, Flynn said. He added that “it’s important for people to remember that the Church always presumes the validity of a marriage unless it’s proven otherwise.”
Whether the number of invalid marriages is “a portion” or “the great majority,” such cases do exist, and the Church has very specific processes in place to evaluate them.
Just because a couple encounters difficulties does not mean their marriage is invalid. “Marriage is, by its very nature, a difficult thing,” Flynn said, “and the Church instructs us to presume that God has given us the grace of marriage, and to rely on that grace, and to ask God to strengthen that grace.”
When a tribunal does examine the validity of a particular marriage, it looks at two primary factors from “the time [the couple] attempted consent,” or the time that they made their wedding vows, Flynn explained.
First is the “object of their consent,” he said. “Did they intend against what marriage really is, or did they intend to marry as the Church understands marriage?”
The second factor is the person’s “capacity for consent,” he added. “Did they have the ability to make a full and free human act of consent?”
There are some key ways that a “provisional culture” can affect people’s marriages, he said. For example, grounds for annulment can include when “a person might directly and principally intend against a permanent marriage.”
“That is to say,” he continued, “‘I marry you but I intend to end this perpetual union when I see fit’.” This can’t just be an admitting that divorce “happens,” he noted, but rather “an intention against the permanence of the marriage” at the time of the wedding vows.
Another nullifying factor is “ignorance” of the nature of marriage as “a permanent union between a man and a woman, that in some way is ordered to the procreation of children through sexual cooperation,” he said.
“We presume that everyone who has achieved puberty is not ignorant of marriage. The law of the Church says we’re supposed to presume that,” he said.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
So for ignorance to nullify a marriage, “you have to prove in a definitive way that they really had no knowledge of the concept of marriage as a permanent union.” And this would be ignorance of a “basic human understanding” of marriage, Flynn clarified, not an ignorance of graduate-level theology of marriage.
Also, a person’s “grave” psychological defects or a “grave defect in their will or in their cognition” can be factors mitigating a person’s “ability to choose” to marry someone, he said. And this has a higher risk of happening in today’s culture.
He acknowledged that “it is true that in a breakdown of the family, in a ‘provisional culture,’ in the ‘culture of death’ as John Paul II said, it’s more likely that people’s ability to choose the act of marriage will be mitigated.”
There are other factors that can nullify a marriage as well. One question is if someone is “free to enter into the human relationship of marriage,” Flynn said.
“In other words, are they capable of having a human relationship at all with other people, or do they suffer psychologically in a way that they wouldn’t be able to?”
Another question is, “Does a person reserve to themselves the right to create children in an intentional way?” Flynn asked.