Pope Francis: Most Catholic marriages are null, some ‘cohabitations’ are ‘real marriage’

June 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis spoke yesterday at a pastoral congress on the family for the Diocese of Rome, and his remarks are causing consternation among faithful Catholics. In off-the-cuff remarks, the pope made the dual claim that the “great majority” of Catholic marriages are “null” – in other words, not actual marriages – and that some cohabitating couples are in a “real marriage,” receiving the grace of the Sacrament.

“I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity,” he said.

In the same interview, the Pope called priests who would refuse baptism to children of single mothers “animals.”

The Vatican has provided video of the full remarks by the Pope as well as a full transcript of his remarks. In the transcript, however, the words of the Pope as heard clearly in the video (at 1:14:20) are changed from saying the “great majority” of Catholic marriages are null, to “a part” of them are null.

 
The Pope’s remarks on cohabitation came in response to a question on the crisis in marriage today. He began by speaking of living in a “culture of the provisional” recalling a story of a boy who wanted to be a priest, “but only for ten years.”

 
“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null,” he said. “Because they say ‘yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

 
Later in his reply Pope Francis spoke of couples preferring to cohabitate, and told priests not to tell them to marry, but to accompany them instead. “They prefer to cohabitate, and this is a challenge, a task. Not to ask ‘why don’t you marry?’ No, to accompany, to wait, and to help them to mature, help fidelity to mature.”

He added, “In Argentina’s northeast countryside, couples have a child and live together. They have a civil wedding when the child goes to school, and when they become grandparents they ‘get married religiously.’”

“It’s a superstition, because marriage frightens the husband. It’s a superstition we have to overcome,” the Pope said. “I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity.”

Regarding cohabitation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2391 Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, “the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.” Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate “trial marriages.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.

Pope St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio spelled out the harm of cohabitation. The various factors leading to situations of cohabitation, he says,

…presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness).

Watch the Pope Francis’ remarks in Italian here: Pope Francis on Cohabitation

Cardinal Burke: Pope’s exhortation not magisterial, can’t change Church teaching

Cardinal BurkeCardinal Raymond Burke has said that the Pope’s newly released post-synodal exhortation cannot change Church teaching and practice, emphasizing that the document is not magisterial.

“The Church has historically been sensitive to the erroneous tendency to interpret every word of the pope as binding in conscience, which, of course, is absurd,” he wrote in an article published by the National Catholic Register today. “Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium.”

Burke adds that the Church takes care that “a personal reflection of the Pope, while received with the respect owed to his person, is not confused with the binding faith owed to the exercise of the magisterium.”

“Certain commentators confuse such respect,” which is rightly due to the Pope, “with a supposed obligation to ‘believe with divine and Catholic faith’ (Canon 750, § 1) everything contained in the document,” says Burke. “But the Catholic Church, while insisting on the respect owed to the Petrine Office as instituted by Our Lord Himself, has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium.”

Cardinal Burke calls on the Church to make clear that the Pope’s personal opinions are not magisterial. “While the Roman Pontiff has personal reflections which are interesting and can be inspiring, the Church must be ever attentive to point out that their publication is a personal act and not an exercise of the Papal Magisterium.”

The Cardinal warns that a failure to make the distinction between the Pope’s personal opinion and magisterial teaching “is harmful to the faithful and weakens the witness of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.”

According to Cardinal Burke the exhortation cannot be interpreted as a “revolution in the Church, as a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church,” since, “the only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching.”

Burke says:

Such a view of the document is both a source of wonder and confusion to the faithful, and potentially a source of scandal not only for the faithful but for others of goodwill who look to Christ and his Church to teach and reflect in practice the truth regarding marriage and its fruit, family life, the first cell of the life of the Church and of every society.

Burke likewise emphasises that pastoral practice cannot be in conflict with doctrine.  It is not possible to separate doctrine and practise because if a practise is legitimized that is contrary to Catholic thinking – such as giving communion to divorced and remarried couples who are living in a state of adultery – then automatically one affirms a heterodox doctrine.

Burke says:

The Church’s official doctrine, in fact, provides the irreplaceable interpretative key to the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, so that it may truly serve the good of all the faithful, uniting them ever more closely to Christ, who alone is our salvation. There can be no opposition or contradiction between the Church’s doctrine and her pastoral practice, since, as the Catechism reminds us, doctrine is inherently pastoral. ∎