With today’s “dominant cultural axiomatic,” which does not uphold the goods of marriage, it says, the intention in the case of baptized non-believers “to enter into a natural marriage cannot be assumed to be guaranteed, nor can it be excluded in the first place.”
In examining this question, the ITC lays out the thoughts of St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. Their teachings show that the question is focused, but not entirely resolved, the commission states.
John Paul II addressed the subject in his post-synodal exhortation Familiaris consortio. He argued “consistently that the marriage act is intrinsically qualified by the supernatural reality to which the baptized belong irrevocably, beyond the express awareness of this reality,” the ITC document summarizes.
The commission quotes a portion of Familiaris consortio which states that to introduce additional criteria to admission to the ecclesial celebration of marriage “would above all involve grave risks,” such as causing doubts about the validity of marriages already celebrated.
In addresses to the Roman Rota in 2001 and 2003, John Paul II warned that there are not two types of marriage, one natural and one supernatural. He also “ratified the natural purpose of marriage and that marriage consists of a natural reality, not exclusively supernatural.”
In its new document, the ITC points out that St. John Paul II says in Familiaris consortio spouses who show an explicit and formal rejection of what the Church intends with the sacrament of marriage should not be admitted to the celebration of marriage by their pastor.
“That is to say, John Paul II demands some minimums, even if it is only the absence of explicit and formal rejection of what the Church does. In his own way, therefore, he also rejects what we can call an absolute sacramental automatism,” the ITC says.
The theologians are concerned with how significant cultural changes have disrupted sacramental faith in a post-modern world, and how this subsequently harms the reciprocity between faith and sacraments.
“Faith is a personal relationship with the Trinitarian God, through which one responds to his grace, to his sacramental revelation,” it says.
“There is a certain danger: either ritualism devoid of faith for lack of interiority or by social custom and tradition; or danger of a privatization of the faith, reduced to the inner space of one’s own conscience and feelings.”
In its paper, the ITC also references the commission’s 1977 document “Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage.”
The 1977 document “supported a series of highly nuanced theses that hint at the tension” in the question, the ITC writes, quoting its statement that “the personal faith of the contracting parties does not constitute the sacramentality of matrimony, but the absence of personal faith compromises the validity of the sacrament.”
Then-Msgr. Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was a member of the ITC from 1969-1979. As a cardinal and head of the CDF, he was also president of the commission for 24 years. The question of the validity of marriage between baptized non-believers continued to be important to him also through his pontificate.
Ratzinger, as prefect of the CDF in 1997 said it needs clarifying whether every marriage between two baptized people is “ipso facto” a sacramental marriage.
The then-cardinal noted that a “valid” marriage between two baptized is at the same time a sacrament. Since faith is part of the essence of the sacrament, clarification is needed on “the juridical question” of what evidence of “absence of faith” prevents the sacrament from coming into being, he said.
He later qualified his view as pope, when he indicated the question is very difficult in an address to priests in 2005.
The ITC says Benedict then “had more doubts about faith as a reason for invalidity” and thought “the question still requires deepening.”
In his last speech to the Roman Rota in January 2013, Benedict alluded to faith and intention in marriage, saying “for the purposes of the sacrament” the right intention is required, not personal faith.
“However, it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely.”
Pope Francis has not addressed the tension so directly, the ITC points out, but did say in 2015 and 2016 speeches to the Roman Rota that “it is worth clearly reiterating that the essential component of marital consent is not the quality of one’s faith, which according to unchanging doctrine can be undermined only on the plane of the natural.”
Francis also said: “A lack of formation in the faith and error with respect to the unity, indissolubility and sacramental dignity of marriage invalidates marital consent only if they influence the person’s will.”
“It is for this reason that errors regarding the sacramentality of marriage must be evaluated very attentively,” the pope said in 2016.