No matter what may be reported in the secular press, the pontificate of Pope Francis is NOT deviating from what the Church always proclaimed about marriage, as reiterated in Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii, Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, in his quarter century of annual addresses to the Roman Rota, I believe Pope John Paul II showed growing dis-ease about possible misuse of marriage tribunals, triggering the Vatican's 2005 Dignitas Connubii. In his own addresses to the Roman Rota, I believe Pope Benedict XVI continued in the same vane as Pope John Paul II:
- "pastoral sensitivity must be directed to avoiding matrimonial nullity when the couple seeks to marry and to striving to help the spouses solve their possible problems and find the path to reconciliation" [Emphasis added.] (1/28/06).
- “the conviction that the pastoral good of the person in an irregular marital situation requires a sort of canonical regularization, independently of the validity or nullity of his/her marriage...has also spread in certain ecclesiastical milieus" (1/27/07).
- "The value of interventions of the Ecclesiastical Magisterium on matrimonial and juridical issues, including the Roman Pontiff's Discourses to the Roman Rota....authoritatively teach the essential aspects of the reality of marriage" (1/26/08).
- "a problem that continues to be very real is visible to everyone....that of preserving the ecclesial community 'from the scandal of seeing in practice the value of Christian marriage being destroyed by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity...on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness.... real incapacity...is always an exception to the natural principle of the capacity necessary" [Emphasis added] (1/29/09)
- "some maintain that pastoral charity could justify every step towards declaring the nullity of the marriage bond in order to assist people who find themselves in irregular matrimonial situations. Truth itself, even if lip service [sic] be paid to it, tends thus to be viewed through a manipulative lens that would seek to adapt it, case by case, to the different requirements that emerge....Charity without justice is not charity, but a counterfeit" [Emphasis added] (1/28/10).
- "The good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage and from the family founded upon marriage is so great as to call for full pastoral commitment to this particular area" [Emphasis added.] (1/22/11).
- "Christian maturity leads one to love the law ever more and want to understand it and to apply it faithfully....These reflections acquire a special relevance in the area of laws regarding the constitutive act of Matrimony and its consummation, and the reception of Holy Orders, and of those [laws] pertaining to the respective Processes" (1/21/12).
- "although the spousal bond is a natural reality, it has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized....The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does [Emphasis added]....Yet, closure to God or the rejection of the sacred dimension of the conjugal union and of its value in the order of grace certainly makes arduous the practical embodiment of the most lofty model of marriage....the sacrifice offered by the abandoned spouse or the spouse who has suffered divorce, is still precious today, if — recognizing the indissolubility of the valid matrimonial bond — they refrain from 'becoming involved in a new union…. In such cases their example of fidelity and Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before the world and the Church' [Emphasis added.] (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio [22 November 1981], n. 83)".
- "52. In Abraham’s journey towards the future city, the Letter
to the Hebrews mentions the blessing which was passed on from fathers to
sons (cf. Heb 11:20-21). The first setting in which faith enlightens
the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable
union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as
a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and
acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses
can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a
new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving
plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other
mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors
many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we
perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which
sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one
we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the
begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts
us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith,
became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf.
As per Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna (9/12/13),
- "While up until only a few years ago the term 'marriage' (coniugalità)
was univocal, had only one meaning, and was the vehicle for the
representation of only one reality, the sexual affection between a man
and woman, today the term has become ambiguous because it can also
signify a homosexual union. From this ambiguity derives a total and
objective disconnection from the beginning of a human life....
"The human person is his
body: he is a person-body. And the body is the person: he is a
- "Femininity and masculinity are not mere biological data. They form
the face of the person; they are the 'form'....
- "Why are there two 'forms' of humanity, masculine form and the
feminine form? Sacred Scripture, which is also confirmed by our deepest
experience, responds in the following way: so that both can leave behind
their 'original solitude,' and realize themselves in each other (cf.
- "Being rooted in humanity itself, man and woman are also able to
constitute a communion of persons and to find in this communion their
fullness as human persons.
"This capacity, characteristic of man as a person, the capacity for
self-gift, has both a spiritual and bodily dimension. It is also through
the body that man and woman are predisposed to form that communion of
persons in which marriage consists. The male and female bodies are not
only an expressive but a performative language of conjugality.
"In marriage understood and founded in this way paternity and
maternity are inscribed. It is only in the context of marriage that the
new human person can be introduced into the universe of being in a
manner that is adequate to his dignity. He is not produced but
generated. He is awaited as a gift, not demanded as a right (http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/cardinal-caffarra-on-what-is-marriage-part-1)....
"The good that is marriage has
two fundamental aspects.
1. Marriage is a 'communio personarum' (a communion of persons). The
goodness of marriage is a communal goodness. I would like to show you
some dimensions of it.
(a) Such a relationship can only be given among persons, and the
basis is the perception of goodness, of worth proper to the person. The
husband and wife are persons for each other.
(b) The communion of persons that constitutes the good of marriage is not based on emotions, on mere psycho-physical attraction. Animals too are capable of connections based on these factors. Only persons are capable of making the following promise: 'I promise to be faithful to you always ... all the days of my life.' Only persons are capable of living in communion because they are capable of choosing in a free and conscious way.
(c) Only the person is capable of making a gift of himself and only the person is capable of accepting the gift....But the person can also give up his freedom and live in the manner of those who let themselves be carried along by social mainstream or by his own impulses. Marriage is particularly vulnerable to this trap.
(d) The communion of conjugal persons – mutual self-donation and reception – is rooted in the depths of the person: in one’s own 'I.' It is the person as such that is given/received. Here is perhaps the most profound mystery of marriage. You know well that Sacred Scripture indicates the sexual relationship between a man and a woman with the verb 'to know.' There is a revelation of one to the other in their intimate identity....
- "Two basic concluding reflections. First, you have seen that I have
been careful to avoid using the word 'love'....Love is one of the key words of the Christian proposal but it
has been appropriated by modern culture and become an empty word, a kind
of receptacle into which everybody puts what he wants....
"Second, the witnesses to the truth of marriage will have a hard life,
as is not unusual for witnesses to truth" [Emphasis added] (http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/cardinal-caffarra-on-the-value-of-marriage-part-2).
As per Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller's The Power of Grace (10/23/13):
- "Today even firm believers are seriously wondering: can the Church not admit the
divorced and remarried to the sacraments under certain conditions? Are her
hands permanently tied on this matter?....
- "The comparison drawn by the
prophets between God’s covenant with Israel and the marriage bond includes not
only the ideal of monogamy, but also that of indissolubility. The prophet
Malachi expresses this clearly: 'Do not be faithless to the wife of your youth
... with whom you have made a covenant' (Mal 2:14-15).
"Above all, it was his controversies with the Pharisees that gave Jesus
occasion to address this theme. He distanced himself explicitly from the Old
Testament practice of divorce, which Moses had permitted because men were 'so
hard of heart', and he pointed to God’s original will: 'from the beginning of
creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his
father and mother and ... the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God
has joined together let not man put asunder' (Mk 10:5-9; cf.
Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18). The Catholic Church has always based
its doctrine and practice upon these sayings of Jesus concerning the
indissolubility of marriage. The inner bond that joins the spouses to one
another was forged by God himself. It designates a reality that comes from God
and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal....
- "Saint Paul presents the prohibition on divorce as the express will of
- "Christian marriage is
an effective sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church. Because it
designates and communicates the grace of this covenant, marriage between the
baptized is a sacrament....
- "In the Orthodox
Churches today, there are a great many grounds for divorce, which are mostly
justified in terms of oikonomia, or pastoral leniency in difficult
individual cases, and they open the path to a second or third marriage marked by
a penitential character. This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as
expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of
marriage. But it represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be
underestimated [Emphasis added].
"In the West, the Gregorian reform countered these liberalizing tendencies and
gave fresh impetus to the original understanding of Scripture and the Fathers.
The Catholic Church defended the absolute indissolubility of marriage even at
the cost of great sacrifice and suffering. The schism of a 'Church of England'
detached from the Successor of Peter came about not because of doctrinal
differences, but because the Pope, out of obedience to the sayings of Jesus,
could not accommodate the demands of King Henry VIII for the dissolution of his
"Through the sacrament the
indissolubility of marriage acquires a new and deeper sense: it becomes the
image of God’s enduring love for his people and of Christ’s irrevocable fidelity
to his Church.
- "Marriage can be understood and lived as a sacrament only in the context of
the mystery of Christ. If marriage is secularized or regarded as a purely
natural reality, its sacramental character is obscured....
- "The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio – issued by John Paul
II on 22 November 1981 in the wake of the Synod of Bishops on the Christian
family in the modern world, and of fundamental importance ever since –
emphatically confirms the Church’s dogmatic teaching on marriage....They too belong to the Church, they are entitled to pastoral
care and they should take part in the Church’s life....And yet they cannot be
admitted to the Eucharist. Two reasons are given for this:
- a) 'their state and
condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and
the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist'
b) 'if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage'....
faithful concerned may not present themselves for holy communion on the basis of
their own conscience....If doubts remain
over the validity of a failed marriage, these must be examined by the competent
- "He [Pope Benedict XVI] confirms 'the Church's practice,
based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the
divorced and remarried to the sacraments', but he urges pastors at the same
time, to devote 'special concern' to those affected: in the wish that they 'live
as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass,
albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic
adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue
with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of
penance, and commitment to the education of their children'. If there are
doubts concerning the validity of the failed marriage, these are to be carefully
examined by the competent marriage tribunals. Today’s mentality is largely
opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its
indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many Christians are
influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they
were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance
with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an
environment of faith [Emphasis added.]. Therefore assessment of the validity of marriage is
important and can help to solve problems. Where nullity of marriage cannot be
demonstrated, the requirement for absolution and reception of communion,
according to the Church’s established and approved practice, is that the couple
live 'as friends, as brother and sister'. Blessings of irregular unions are to
be avoided, 'lest confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of
marriage'. A blessing (bene-dictio: divine sanctioning) of a
relationship that contradicts the will of God is a contradiction in terms....
- "Where the fundamental insights of
Christian faith have been lost, church affiliation of a purely conventional kind
can no longer sustain major life decisions or provide a firm foothold in the
midst of marital crises – as well as crises in priestly and religious life....
"On the other hand, the ideal – built into the order of creation – of
faithfulness between one man and one woman has lost none of its fascination....Moreover, one must not forget the anthropological
value of indissoluble marriage: it withdraws the partners from caprice and from
the tyranny of feelings and moods. It helps them to survive personal
difficulties and to overcome painful experiences. Above all it protects the
children, who have most to suffer from marital breakdown [Emphasis added.]....
"If anyone should doubt
whether the marriage bond is ontological, let him learn from the word of God:
'He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said: for
this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh'
"The Church cannot respond to the
growing incomprehension of the sanctity of marriage by pragmatically
accommodating the supposedly inevitable, but only by trusting in 'the Spirit
which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God'
(1 Cor 2:12). Sacramental marriage is a testimony to the power of
grace, which changes man and prepares the whole Church for the holy city, the
new Jerusalem, the Church, which is prepared 'as a bride adorned for her
husband' (Rev 21:2). The Gospel of the sanctity of marriage is to be
proclaimed with prophetic candour [Emphasis added]. By adapting to the spirit of the age, a
weary prophet seeks his own salvation but not the salvation of the world in
"Admittedly there are situations – as every pastor knows – in which marital
cohabitation becomes for all intents and purposes impossible for compelling
reasons, such as physical or psychological violence. In such hard cases, the
Church has always permitted the spouses to separate and no longer live
together. It must be remembered, though, that the marriage bond of a valid
union remains intact in the sight of God, and the individual parties are not
free to contract a new marriage, as long as the spouse is alive. Pastors and
Christian communities must therefore take pains to promote paths of
reconciliation in these cases too, or, should that not be possible, to help the
people concerned to confront their difficult situation in faith....
- "It is frequently suggested that remarried divorcees should be allowed to
decide for themselves, according to their conscience, whether or not to present
themselves for holy communion. This argument, based on a problematical concept
of 'conscience', was rejected by a document of the CDF in 1994. Naturally, the
faithful must consider every time they attend Mass whether it is possible to
receive communion, and a grave unconfessed sin would always be an impediment [Emphasis added.].
At the same time they have the duty to form their conscience and to align it
with the truth. In so doing they listen also to the Church’s Magisterium, which
helps them 'not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather,
especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and
to abide in it' (Veritatis Splendor, 64). If remarried divorcees are
subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid,
this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals [Emphasis added]....'If the prior marriage of two divorced
and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can
their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments
is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this
norm without exception' (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 'The Pastoral approach to
marriage must be founded on truth' L’Osservatore Romano, English
edition, 7 December 2011, p. 4)....
- "Jesus encountered the adulteress with great
compassion, but he said to her 'Go and do not sin again' (Jn 8:11).
God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of
the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfil
them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness
according to the image of our heavenly Father....
- "Insofar as the parties make an effort to
understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide
their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage."
Pope Francis' Address to Members of the Apostolic Signature (11/8/13):
Defender of the bond....must propose all
sorts of proofs, exceptions, recourses and appeals that, in respect of
the truth, foster the defense of the bond....it is necessary to
always keep alive the connection between the action of the Church that
evangelizes and the action of the Church that administers justice. The
service to justice is a commitment of apostolic life: it requires to be
exercised by keeping one’s gaze fixed on the icon of the Good Shepherd,
who bends down to the lost and wounded sheep."