By Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Addressing the Vatican tribunal primarily responsible for hearing requests for marriage annulments, Pope Francis said all annulment processes should be free of charge.
“The sacraments are free. The sacraments give us grace. And a matrimonial process pertains to the sacrament of matrimony. How I wish that all processes were free,” the pope said Jan. 24, at a meeting to inaugurate the Roman Rota’s judicial year.
Pope Francis also said that, because contemporary culture portrays marriage as a “mere form of emotional gratification,” people often marry without a true understanding of the sacrament, meaning many such marriages might actually be invalid.
“The judge, in pondering the validity of the consent expressed, must take into account the context of values and of faith – or their presence or absence – in which the intent to marry was formed. In fact, ignorance of the contents of the faith could lead to what the code (of canon law) calls an error conditioning the will. This eventuality is not to be considered rare as in the past, precisely because worldly thinking often prevails over the magisterium of the church,” the pope said.
The pope said judges in matrimonial cases should “determine if there was an original lack of consent, either directly because of a lack of a valid intention, or because of a grave lack of understanding of matrimony itself, such as to condition the will. The crisis of marriage is, in fact, not seldom at the root a crisis of conscience illuminated by faith.”
In August, Pope Francis established a commission to simplify and streamline the marriage-annulment process. At the October Synod of Bishops on the family, participants discussed the possibility of waiving fees. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, told reporters that the purpose of such a measure would be to eliminate even the “smallest suspicion” of a profit motive in church activities relating to a sacrament.
The impact of the cultural context on the validity of marriages is not a new concern.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote in the Vatican newspaper in October 2013: “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.”
In July, 2013, Pope Francis suggested that as many as half of all Catholic marriages might be invalid, “because people get married lacking maturity, they get married without realizing that it is a lifelong commitment, they get married because society tells them they have to get married.”
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI told an interviewer that “canon law has taken it for granted that someone who contracts a marriage knows what marriage is. Assuming the exis- tence of this knowledge, the marriage is then valid and indissoluble. But in the present confusion of opinions, in today’s completely new situation, what people ‘know’ is rather that divorce is supposedly normal. So we have to deal with the question of how to recognize validity and where healing is possible.”