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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is clarifying that a malformed faith does not make a marriage invalid.
In an audience given Friday to the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Church’s Court, he urged caution in determining the sacramental validity of a marriage, rejecting the notion that a badly formed faith is sufficient reason to declare nullity.
"It is good to repeat with clarity that the quality of faith is not an essential condition of matrimonial consent, which, according to the doctrine of the Church, can be undermined only on the natural level."
Cardinal Walter Kasper in 2014 had attributed to Pope Francis the claim that "50 percent of marriages are not valid" — remarks that set the media world abuzz.
"Marriage is a sacrament," Cdl. Kasper said. "A sacrament presupposes faith." And in modern marriages, "you have to ask whether there was faith, and whether they really accepted all the conditions of a valid sacramental marriage."
But Pope Francis' official words today seem to contradict what was ascribed to him by Cdl. Kasper in 2014.
After acknowledging the two-fold mission of the Tribunal, which is to defend the "Sacred Bond" as well as to show "the indefectible merciful love of God towards the family, in particular those wounded by sin and by the trials of life," the Holy Father went on to explain how faith, even if not fully informed at the time of marital consent, can develop over time.
In fact, the habitus fidei [habit of faith] is infused from the moment of Baptism and continues to have a mysterious influence in the soul, even when the Faith has not been developed and psychologically appears to be absent. It is not rare for those who are betrothed, impelled towards true matrimony of the instinctus naturae [natural instinct], at the moment of celebration, to have a conscience limited in the design of the project of God, and only afterwards, in the life of the family, to discover all that God the Creator and Redeemer has established for them.
He continued, "Deficiencies in the formation of the Faith and even error regarding the sacramental unity, indissolubility and dignity of marriage vitiate matrimonial consent only if they determine the will."
"It is precisely for this reason," he warned, "that errors regarding the sacramentality of marriage must be weighed very carefully."
The remarks go far in clearing up confusion over aspects of last year's reforms to the procedure for declarations of nullity. In apostolic letters issued on September 8, 2015, Pope Francis decreed a number of major changes, including shortening the length of time for the process as well as minimizing financial costs involved.
The letters also set forth the circumstances allowing for declarations of nullity. In particular, Article 14 in the section titled "The way of proceeding in cases regarding the declaration of the nullity of a marriage," lists, among multiple reasons to declare a marriage null, "the defect of faith which can generate simulation of consent or error that determines the will ... ."
Some commentators criticized this section in particular as a contradiction to "Familiaris Consortio," Pope St. John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on marriage, which acknowledged that "the faith of the person asking the Church for marriage can exist in different degrees."
Allowing the tribunal to determine the validity of marriage based on this criterion "would above all involve grave risks," Pope John Paul II cautioned, including "the risk of making unfounded and discriminatory judgments; ... the risk of causing doubts about the validity of marriages already celebrated, with grave harm to Christian communities, and new and unjustified anxieties to the consciences of married couples."
Pope Francis' remarks offered today to the Roman Rota appear to fall in line with "Familiaris Consortio," and raise the bar in the use of this criterion — the spouse's formation in the Faith — to determine competence to consent to marriage.
Read the full allocution here (English translation courtesy of Canonical Aid, Inc.).
Learn more about modern attacks on sacramental marriage in our program "Remaining in the Truth: Kasper's Broken Mercy."
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