A ‘right’ to marry in the Church

Pope: do not presume a ‘right’ to marry in the Church

January 24, 2011

“No one has the right to a marriage ceremony,” Pope Benedict XVI told a Vatican tribunal on January 24.

“The right to contract marriage presupposes that the parties can and do intend to celebrate it properly,” the Pope explained. In short, he said, Catholic pastors should arrange weddings only if they are confident that the parties to the marriage understand ‘the truth of its essence, as taught by the Church,” and intend to enter a genuine Christian marriage.

The Holy Father made this provocative remark in his annual address to the apostolic tribunal of the Roman Rota, which is opening its judicial year. The work of the Roman Rota, the Vatican’s appeals court, is dominated by marriage cases, and each year the Pope’s address to the judges and advocates of the tribunal focuses on the canonical requirements of marriage.

Pope Benedict went on to say that the future husband and wife should recognize that they are entering into a union which “possesses the characteristics of unity and indissolubility, which is ordered for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of their children and which, among the baptized, represents one of the sacraments of the New Covenant.”

Pastors should take “the greatest pastoral care” to ensure that young people understand their obligations, the Pope continued. He urged pastors to avoid the “vicious circle which often arises” because couples did not properly understand the essence of marriage, and then when their marriages break down they seek declarations of nullity (commonly known as annulments) from Church tribunals.

This problem arises, the Pope argued, because too many priests work on the assumption that “pastors should proceed with leniency, as the natural right of people to marry is in question.” While people do have the right to marry, he said, the celebration of marriage in the Church requires a proper understanding of the sacramental bond.

In preparing young people for marriage, pastors should question them carefully to ensure that they are properly disposed and meet the canonical requirements for Christian marriage, the Pope said. “Judicial, however, does not mean formulaic,” he cautioned, warning against “some bureaucratic routine consisting in the compilation of a form on the basis of ritual questions.” Rather, he said, priests should see the preparation for marriage as “a unique pastoral opportunity,” enabling them to help young people gain a better appreciation for the sacrament and a fuller understanding of what married life requires.

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