This is Pope Francis’ original statement on sacramental marriages:
“I heard a bishop say some months ago that he met a boy that had finished his university studies, and said ‘I want to become a priest, but only for 10 years.’ It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life.”
“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say ‘yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”
The Vatican has corrected this statement, and the pope has approved of the revision, in which the troubling portion now says:
“a portion of our sacramental marriages are null.”
This revised statement ultimately says nothing new. Yes, some presumed sacramental marriages are null and void. That’s to state the obvious. It’s simply the nature of a sacrament that various circumstances can render it invalid, so that there is no sacrament, in spite of the presence of some of the elements or appearances of a sacrament.
It’s also true, as the pope explained, that many people now attempt to enter into marriage with a lackadaisical attitude and an ignorance regarding the indissoluble nature of the sacrament. Hence, although they ostensibly celebrate a wedding, nevertheless, their views on the contractual and covenantal aspects of marriage are so far from the true nature of Christian marriage as to render their vows invalid. Again, this adds nothing new to the Church’s teaching on Holy Matrimony or her awareness of the deplorable state of it in the modern world.
What is troubling, however, is that it appears to be the pope’s personal view that the majority of Catholic marriages are invalid. If a marriage does not actually exist, than the grace of the sacrament is also absent. This is a shocking claim, but it is only his opinion, and it must not be confused with the actual teaching of the Church. Nor could he know this to be the case with any certainty. Only a marriage tribunal or a bishop, after making a thorough investigation into an individual case, can make a judgment regarding marital validity; and even then, such a judgment is not infallible. Nevertheless, if this does not make every wedded Catholic question their own marriage, then I don’t know what could. Should I not ponder the supposed likelihood that my own marriage might belong to that alleged majority of Catholic marriages spoiled by invalid consent?
Even more, why should all the doubt circulate around marriage alone? If we have reached a point in history in which most Catholics are incapable of entering into the most fundamental and essential relationship – that of marriage – then we should logically begin to suspect trouble regarding the other sacraments as well. Why should we not be equally concerned that perhaps many of our priests lack the proper matter, form, or intention when offering Holy Mass, so as to render it invalid? Or that their sacramental absolutions are invalid? Or perhaps even their ordinations? Why does the possibility of invalidity come to a screeching halt with our marriages? It seems rather strange to hold that only the faithful have had a poor Catholic formation these past few decades, and not the clergy. After all, our view of Christian marriage is the result of the formation our pastors have given us through their teaching and preaching.
The confusion caused by the above quotations cannot remain isolated and affect only one sacrament; it will trickle down and affect the other sacraments also. Reason and consistency should have us all wondering about the larger picture of the Church’s sacramental life. What else might have been invalid?
Folks, know the faith so that you can remain faithful. Study the Bible and the Catechism, and pray, pray, pray. Do not let the steady flow of confusion from Rome mislead you or spoil your love for God, the Church, the papacy, or the eternal truths of the Gospel. We will survive this, by the grace of God. But study the faith, or you may lose it.