Last week, Pope Francis ruffled more than a few people when he suggested that most sacramental marriages that take place in the Catholic Church are invalid. His reason? A lack of understanding of biblical commitment.
The pope’s comments came from a Q&A session with parish workers, priests and nuns at the Bascilica. A man in the crowd asked the Pope to address “the crisis of marriage” facing the Catholic Church along with how to better prepare younger couples getting married.
Francis responded his above comment, and then further expounded:
“We are living in a provisional culture. Because of this, a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null because they (the couple) say ‘yes, for the rest of my life’ but they don’t know what they are saying because they have a different culture.”
In what looks like an effort to soften some of the outrage toward Pope Francis, when the Vatican released the transcript last Friday, they changed the phrase from “a great majority” to “some.”
Still, his supposition has spawned a number of articles from First Things, National Review, FoxNews and Ross Douthat, a columnist for The New York Times.
Douthat called the pope’s comments “extraordinary, irresponsible and ridiculous.”
In an articled titled “What Francis Forgets About Marriage,” First Things columnist Edward Peters took Pope Francis to task for the irresponsibility of the comments. “It is pastorally reckless to suggest that ignorance about permanence in marriage is pandemic among the world’s Christians, and it is canonically impossible to argue that mere ignorance on this point renders any, let alone the great majority of, sacramental marriages invalid.”
The National Review, however, seemed to cautiously side with the Pope on the issue, stating that Western culture exhibits confusion about marriage by “moving from ‘the divorce culture’ to ‘the cohabiting culture,’ as more young people choose to enter into looser, more provisional bonds that have some shadowy resemblances to the goods of marriage, such as the hope, rather than promise, of lifelong fidelity and openness to life. This cultural confusion about marriage affects everyone, Catholics included.”
Marriage is a big commitment—one of the biggest commitments we make outside of walking with Jesus. It is important that couples not only understand that the marriage they enter into is a commitment to one another, but a vow made before the Lord.
It brings to mind the words from the Common Book of Prayer and the admonition that marriage, sanctioned by Jesus should not “by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God.”
There is no doubt that more will be said about Francis’ comments in the coming days and weeks. Lines will be drawn, assertions made, dissension and agreement espoused. However, the pope’s comments should give church leaders pause. It never hurts to reflect on how we counsel couples who are getting married. If anything, we should ensure that we not only encourage people to enter into the beauty of marriage, but that they enter it in the truth of Scripture and with the best understanding one can have of the immense commitment it requires from both parties.
May we as leaders, counselors and pastors exalt the beautiful mystery of marriage, as well as the gravity and seriousness of, “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).