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For conscientious priests, the Pope just made marriage prep much more difficult

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 19, 2018

If you’re a Catholic priest who tries to be conscientious about preparing couples for marriage, Pope Francis just made your life much more difficult.

You’re doing your best. You tell couples that they should think seriously before taking vows. If they are cohabiting, you ask them to live apart before the marriage. You don’t pretend that preparation for marriage is accomplished by a one-size-fits-all program or a time-consuming, bureaucratic pre-Cana process; you take the time to get to know the man and woman, to speak to them about the true meaning of Christian marriage. You encourage them to make a good confession before the ceremony. Before the wedding day, you speak to each one individually, ensuring that each is ready to make a full and free commitment. You help them to plan the ceremony, guiding them so that it will be done with dignity and reverence. Then you do all the necessary paperwork to guarantee proper canonical form.

Then Pope Francis meets couple on a plane ride, and on the spur of the moment, persuades them to take their vows in mid-flight. Does he ask them to reflect seriously on their commitment? Nope. They evidently weren’t even thinking about a sacramental marriage at takeoff time, and they were married before they landed. Does he question them about their years of cohabitation? Evidently not. Does he hear their confessions? Not likely. Plan a dignified ceremony? Not at all.

As the overworked canon lawyer Ed Peters has remarked, it’s questionable at best that the Pope fulfilled the canonical requirements for marriage. So we face the unedifying reality that the Bishop of Rome may have presided at a marriage that was invalid because of his slapdash approach! And this, remember, is the same Pope who lamented that many (if not most) Catholic marriages today are invalid.

Once again the Pope chose to ignore the requirements of canon law. Bear in mind that the Pope has the unquestioned authority to change canon law, on his own initiative. Still he didn’t change it; all those canons that Ed Peters mentions remain in force. Instead he paid no attention to them.

So for you, the conscientious priest, life is now more difficult. Sometime in the next few weeks, when you try to persuade a young man and woman to take marriage more seriously, you’re going to hear them say, in effect: “What’s the problem? The Pope wouldn’t give us these problems. Why are you making it into such a big deal?”

So you have my sympathy, Father, and my prayers. You’re doing your best. God bless you for that.

Then again if you’re not a conscientious priest—if you’re a priest who enjoys doing the bare minimum, letting people do what they want, not losing sleep about the state of their souls—the Pope just made your life even easier. So I don’t suppose you’ll complain.

And as a matter of fact, reflecting on how few complaints I’ve heard in the past 24 hours, I think I know why the Pope just might be right about how many Catholic marriages are invalid. It seems to me that you’re failing in the essential pastoral responsibilities you vowed to fulfill. But who am I to judge?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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