Reactions to Pope Francis: Most Marriages Null

Pope Francis again made a comment, similar to one he made a couple years back, suggesting that most Catholic marriages are null, i.e. that they are not a valid Sacrament. Here is a link to the news story: Updated: Most Marriages Today Are Invalid, Pope Francis Suggests. The update is summarized as follows:

“This article was updated June 17 to include a clarification by the Vatican: Pope Francis approved a revision to the official transcript to say that “a portion” of sacramental marriages are null, instead of “the great majority.” “

My Comments

The Pope did not teach this point under the Magisterium, so it is not a required belief. And nothing in discipline or specifically Canon law was changed by his remarks either. The Pope spoke his mind; he expressed an opinion.

The vast majority of his critics on this point are accustomed to frequently express their own opinions on many topics, including pretty much all the topics on which the Pope also opines. And yet they bristle and murmur every time the Pope behaves in just the same way that they themselves behave — expressing opinions publicly on a range of issues. So his critics are hypocrites. They do exactly the same thing that they criticize the Pope for doing.

Pope Francis can speak as frequently and openly with the Church and the world as he wishes. He has freedom of speech, and he is the head of the Church on earth. He is engaging society and the faithful in an open dialogue. Prior to Pope Francis, many persons criticized the Church herself and the Vatican in particular for not doing just that.

Are most Catholic marriages invalid? A complete discussion of the validity of Catholic marriages would fill a book, and not a thin book either. The main issue that the Pope opines might make many marriages invalid is whether or not the couple are consenting to the Sacrament of Marriage, which includes a lifelong union before God. Pope Francis said: “They don’t know that it’s indissoluble, they don’t know that it’s for your entire life.” And he is certainly correct that many marriage lack this type of consent to the Sacrament.

In my view, many couples instead are consenting to the secular idea of marriage, which includes the possibility of divorce. They pray seldom, if at all. They marry in a church to please their families or because it is their cultural background. They do not really see marriage as involving God in any substantial way. And this lack of real consent to Marriage specifically as a Sacrament may make a marriage invalid. For every Sacrament requires that the person intend to do what the Church does in that Sacrament — just as the Council of Trent taught.

However, it is not an easy thing to determine if “most” attempted Catholic marriages are invalid Sacraments. Determining intent is difficult in any individual case, and it is much more difficult to determine as a general statement. Some of the Pope’s arrogant critics are confidently asserting that most marriages are certainly valid. They have no real basis for such pretended certitude.

Is the Pope certain that most are invalid? No. For he later changed his remarks, initially made extemporaneously, so that the percentage of invalid marriages is not clear. He changed his own remarks from “the great majority” are invalid, to “a portion” are invalid.

Is there any reason to think that PERHAPS a majority could be invalid? Yes, there is good reason to consider this as a possibility. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world — persons who call themselves Catholic. Most do not go to Mass regularly. Some go to Mass only at Christmas and Easter. Many no longer go to Mass at all. Yet they still call themselves Catholic. Many of these non-practicing or minimally-practicing Catholics choose to marry in the Church, at least nominally. But they have long ago ceased to think of the Church as their Mother or Teacher. Catholicism has become mostly culture for them, not religion.

Of those Catholics who regularly attend Mass, most do not go to Confession at all, or only rarely. Most do not believe all that the Magisterium teaches. Most hold material heresies on many different topics, in knowing contradiction to Church teaching, especially on contraception, abortion, and sexual sins. Many, perhaps most, think that marriage is not necessarily a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Many Catholics have accepted same-sex marriage as if it were no different than a Catholic sacramental marriage. Many Catholic see nothing wrong with premarital sex, homosexual sex, pornography, and many other sexual sins. And I’m describing Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics. The minimally practicing or non-practicing Catholics are in an even worse state.

So it is entirely plausible, that out of all persons who call themselves Catholic and who attempt a Catholic marriage, very many of their marriages are invalid. I would not be surprised IF, in the eyes of God, MOST such marriages are invalid. The members of the Church are in such a sinful state nowadays that we have to consider the likelihood that most Catholic marriages are not valid. And the Pope is well aware of this sad truth, especially since he comes to Rome from Argentina, a nation where most citizens are nominally Catholic, but only a small percentage truly live the faith devoutly. (And many other Catholic nations are in the same state.)

“[Pope Francis] said that in Argentina’s northeast countryside, couples have a child and live together. They have a civil wedding when the child goes to school, and when they become grandparents they “get married religiously.” “

Can we know for sure what percentage of marriages are invalid? No, we cannot. So those who disagree with the Pope should not speak with such utter confidence.

The Over-confident

Over at Fr. Z.’s blog, this post annoyed me: Pope Francis’ latest remarks on the majority of marriages being invalid. Fr. Z. speaks as if his own opinion, that most Catholic marriages are valid, were absolute dogma, and as if the opinion of the Pope were chaff composed of dried up tares.

Fr. Z: “He opined that most marriages today aren’t valid because people don’t understand very well what they are entering into. Of course we know that people who don’t understand very well what they are entering into can and do validly contract marriage.”

Fr. Z. says “of course we know”, as if his own point of view were absolute knowledge, as compared to the silly opinions of the Vicar of Christ. Fr. Z. speaks as if his own ideas are infallible; as if he could not be wrong. And this is a common error among many traditionalists, the attitude that the traditionalist point of view on every topic of doctrine and discipline is absolute dogma, and all things to the contrary cannot possibly be true or instructive.

Pope Francis has the role to teach and correct all Catholics, even traditionalists, conservatives, liberals, popular bloggers, well-known authors, Catholic TV and radio personalities, and other persons with particularly high self-esteem. But I see no indication whatso-freakin-ever that Fr. Z. will ever accept any correction on any topic from Pope Francis. He is like a batter on deck at a baseball game, ready to step up to the home plate of schism. Unless he repents of his pride and converts to humility, he will fall off the cliff of schism.

Fr. Z. quotes Canon lawyer Ed Peters on this topic at length. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Ed Peters: “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?”

Again, we have the bad example of a Catholic who publicly displays utter confidence in his own determination on the validity of most Catholic marriages, and who gives the Pope’s opinion very little weight on the same subject. It is very strange for a Canon lawyer to make this type of remark. For if Dr. Peters were asked by a Bishop to weigh in on the validity of a particular attempted marriage, from a couple seeking an annulment, I’m certain he would not arrive at an opinion quickly. Many different factors need to be considered. It is not immediately evident. And if he decided to opine that the attempted marriage was valid (or invalid), I don’t see how he could present that determination as anything other than a considered opinion, based on various stated facts and subjective evidence. Yet when he consider all attempted Catholic marriages worldwide, he suddenly makes the absolute determination that most are valid. And then he has the arrogance to publicly chastise the representative of Jesus Christ on earth, the Supreme Pontiff, for his concerns on the same subject.

So, I’m the one who is “at a loss to understand how anyone” who knows so much about the many requirements for Sacraments to be valid — as any Canon lawyer would know — can so quickly and surely determine that most marriages are valid and that the Pope is guilty of positing “a dark and dismal claim”.

The arrogance of the modern-day Catholic is just astounding. They treat their own thoughts like gold and diamonds raining from the sky, while the opinions of the Vicar of Christ are dust and dirt, kicked up by the wind. What will happen when Pope Francis decides to teach, under the Magisterium — perhaps even under Papal Infallibility — some truth from Tradition and Scripture that is contrary to their own understanding? I don’t see any willingness on the part of so many Catholic commentators to even consider the sheer possibility that their own thinking could be in error or in need of correction. Pride goeth before a fall. Extreme pride goeth before a fall into Hell.

The Pope can err in his personal opinions, and the faithful are free to disagree. But it is always a sin to treat the Pope or his opinions with contempt and denigration. And it does not bode well for how they will treat his future teachings, such as his decision on women deacons.

But I want everyone to understand that the Church is indefectible, and therefore no Pope can teach heresy, and no Pope can commit the sins of heresy or schism or apostasy. More in my book: In Defense of Pope Francis

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Reactions to Pope Francis: Most Marriages Null

  1. Dot says:

    I agree with the pope’s first statement, that it is beyond dismal. When people no longer believe “til death do us part,” I’m sure there is much more missing. Husbands retreating from their leadership role is a big problem. Willing or not, the wives take over. Treating children as optional is everywhere, even though marriage and children are supposed to be intertwined. Who will make sacrifices or allow God to intervene? So it actually makes sense that people would use trial and error and “play” at marriage, because no one can even agree what marriage is, anymore.

  2. Shane Hogan says:

    Thank you Ron for holding high the beautiful Christian virtue of humility. The arrogance you highlight so clearly is astonishing. I join you in honour and respect for our Pope.

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