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Pope strongly upholds Christian marriage as attainable ideal, rejects other forms of union

January 22, 2016

Christian marriage is not an ideal that only unusual couples can attain, Pope Francis said in a January 22 to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota; it is “a reality that, in the grace of Christ, can be experienced by all the baptized.”

The Roman Rota judges marriage cases, and as he spoke to the tribunal—at the opening of its judicial year—the Pope emphasized the importance of upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage. This, he said, is “a mission that is always current, but of special relevance in our time.”

The Roman Rota judges individual cases against the laws of Christian marriage, and thereby fulfills a dual role, showing the Church’s compassion and at the same time its fidelity to Christ’s teaching, the Pontiff said. Through the tribunal, he explained, the Church “can show the unfailing merciful love of God to families—especially those wounded by sin and the trials of life—and, at the same time, proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God's design.”

The Pope stressed that tribunal judges should exercise compassion particularly in cases when they uphold the validity of an unhappy marriage. They should “always remember that those who, by choice or unhappy circumstances of life, are living in an objective state of error, continue to be the object of the merciful love of Christ and thus the Church herself.”

The Church recognizes that many young people enter into marriage without a proper understanding of their responsibilities, the Pope continued. He remarked that “among Christians some have a strong faith, formed by charity, strengthened by good catechesis and nurtured in prayer and sacramental life, whereas others have a weak and neglected faith, unformed, uneducated or forgotten.” Nevertheless he said that the goals of Christian marriage can be attained by all couples, and in fact many couples learn to appreciate “the fullness of God’s plan for marriage” only gradually, by experience.

In a clear reference to the acceptance of other living arrangements, the Pope said that “there can be no confusion between the family willed by God and any other type of union.” This unmistakable rejection of non-marital unions appeared to be a reflection on the discussions of the Synod of Bishops last October, when some prelates had suggested greater acceptance of same-sex partnerships and cohabiting couples.

Similarly, in his insistence that marriage is not a lofty ideal that few people can fulfill, Pope Francis seemed to be answering some of the bishops who, during the Synod debates, argued that virtually all couples fall short of the ideal. Several prominent Vatican journalists observed, therefore, that the Pope's speech to the Roman Rota might be an indication that his forthcoming document, wrapping up the work of the Synod, will reaffirm existing Church teachings on marriage and disappoint those who are hoping for radical reforms.


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