The Great Majority of Christian Marriages are Valid

The Great Majority of Christian Marriages are Valid :

Last time a ranking prelate (Cdl. Kasper) opined that half of all marriages were null his attribution of such a reckless assertion to Pope Francis himself could be dismissed as hearsay, deflected as referring to marriage in general and not Christian marriage in particular, or at least minimized as describing merely ‘many’ or even ‘half’ of all marriages. But none of those qualifications can be applied to blunt the impact of the pope’s startling claim “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null”.

If last time was bad, this time is very bad.

Consider: Marriage is that natural human relationship established by God as the normal way for nearly all adults to live most of their lives. God blesses marriage and assists married persons to live in accord with this beautiful state in life. When, moreover, baptized persons enter this quintessential human relationship, Christ adds the special graces of a sacrament and assists married Christians to live as signs of his everlasting spousal union with his Church.

To assert, then, that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” is really to claim that the great majority of Christians have failed to enter the most natural of human states and have failed to effect between themselves the exact sacrament that Christ instituted to assist them in it. The collapse of human nature presupposed for such a social catastrophe and the massive futility of the Church’s sanctifying mission among her own faithful evidenced by such a debacle would be—well, it would be the matrimonial version of nuclear winter. I am at a loss to understand how anyone who knows anything about either could seriously assert that human nature is suddenly so corrupted and Christ’s sacraments are now so impotent as to have prevented “the great majority” of Christians from even marrying! How can anyone responsibly even posit such a dark and dismal claim, let alone demonstrate it?

But 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.’

This is just a blog post so, simply invoking the same extensive credentials to speak on Catholic marriage law that I invoked two years ago, 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 rejectanyone’s claim that the majority, let alone “the great majority”, of Christian marriages are null.

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Finally—and I make this point mostly to preserve it for future discussion—the pope, toward the end of these remarks, made some comments about cohabiting and/or civilly married Catholics being in “a real marriage [and having] the grace of a real marriage”. Canonically (if I may be forgiven for mentioning canon law) such a claim is incoherent. Whatever good might be going on in the life of cohabiting and/or civilly married Catholic couples, it is not the good of marriage and it is not the grace of matrimony, but this—and here is my point—largely because of the Church’s requirement of canonical form for marriage. I would be glad to see the requirement of canonical form eliminated, but unless and until it is, cohabitation and civil-only marriage is not marriage in the Catholic Church.

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9 comments

  1. “the pope, toward the end of these remarks, made some comments about cohabiting and/or civilly married Catholics being in “a real marriage [and having] the grace of a real marriage”.” I think he should just stop talking!

  2. I have seen some people say that the English and Italian don’t match up. I will reserve judgment fully on his comments until that has been more firmly resolved.

    At the same time, I think he is probably right that most marriages aren’t properly sacramental. Considering how many Catholics think birth control is ok, and see “outs” via divorce, that would line up with the notion of nullity in the Western Tradition.

  3. 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 rejectanyone’s claim that the majority, let alone “the great majority”, of Christian marriages are null.

    I find this obtuse. Who cares if it’s 20%, 50%, or 80%? I could imagine a culture that 90% are invalid. This doesn’t change the doctrine, which is what I thought the pope was referring to.

    People can choose to marry in the traditional way. Or not. It’s their funeral.

    “the pope, toward the end of these remarks, made some comments about cohabiting and/or civilly married Catholics being in “a real marriage [and having] the grace of a real marriage”.” I think he should just stop talking!

    Ouch. I think it’s a tough thing to explain to people. Adam and Eve and St. Peter and his wife were “cohabiting” and lacked the grace of Christian marriage. But this doesn’t make it somehow deformed. Just less than what the Christian version offers. I’d cut the Holy Father just a little bit of slack here.

  4. Ok, I get you now. The term “invalid” makes the “invalid sacramental” marriage seem not to exist at all. It’s more confusing the more I think about it.

    I guess I think like a pagan. I could happily marry a dozen women at the same time, great marriages, even better than many sacramental ones where grace is not being used wisely.

    But just mentioning that LOTS of Catholic marriages are not sacramentally valid may insult those with valid ones by implying there is not much difference (no big deal).

    Or insult those with invalid sacramental marriages by implying that, because they are lesser, they are not still great things (which they may be). Nobody can win here.

  5. “In addition, so important is this presumption of the validity of marriages that the Church goes on to protect it by requiring that the presumption can only be overturned if there is “moral certainty” of invalidity based on certain proofs (cf. canon 1608). That is, the invalidity cannot just be probably so or even more than likely so but rather must be “morally certain” to be so.
    Thus, it would be incredibly reckless and unjust for any of us, whether pastors, tribunal officials, or even spouses themselves to pre-judge a marriage as “it must be invalid” without official, objective examination.
    Just as it would be a travesty of justice to abandon the legal presumption of being “innocent until proven guilty,” it would be an affront against marriage to abandon, even informally or in our own minds, the important presumption enshrined in canon 1060 of a marriage being “valid until proven otherwise.”
    We pray that with the current controversy over the Pope’s remarks we are not also witnessing an erosion of this seriously important principle of the presumption of validity of marriages. To lose this presumption, especially in pastoral work, would be a great detriment to the sacrament of marriage and the salvation of souls.”

    Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/are-many-marriages-today-invalid/#ixzz4C9RdDQ4G

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