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

Last June 17, Pope Francis caused a firestorm of controversy when he publicly said 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”.

“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 a pastoral congress on the family for the Diocese of Rome.  The pope’s remarks were broadcast on Vatican TV, and can easily be found in Youtube.

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.”

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.

At one stage, the pontiff was asked a question about how to prepare young people for marriage today when they have a “fear of the definitive,” meaning an aversion to lifetime commitments of any sort. Among other things, Francis unmistakably says that due to a contemporary “culture of the provisional,” a “great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because [couples] say, ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they don’t know what they’re saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

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).

Papal Secretary Archbishop Gänswein Speaks on Benedict, The Two Popes, and Prophecy

alightningstrikesstpetersdomeatthevaticanonfebruary11-203x3002xWhen Pope emeritus Benedict XVI resigned as pontiff three years ago, he added a new dimension to the papacy, said his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

The archbishop spoke about Benedict’s pontificate and its wake at a May 20 book presentation of “Oltre la crisi della Chiesa” (Beyond the Church’s Crisis) by Father Roberto Regoli, an historian and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. The book aims to be the first history-based evaluation of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

He also talked about other interesting matters: The struggle that happened during the 2005 papal conclave, Benedict XVI’s view of his historical resignation, the “Prophesy of Malachy” which allegedly sees Francis as the last pontiff, and others. His thoughts were captured in a rare, candid conversation with veteran journalist and EWTN Rome correspondent Paul Badde.

Struggle at the 2005 Conclave

Archbishop Ganswein reflected on the meaning of Benedict XVI’s election. He said that the election was “certainly the outcome of a clash” whose key interpretation had been given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself in his homily for the pre-conclave Mass on April 18, 2005.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger reflected on the clash of two forces. He criticized “a dictatorship of relativism” that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desire.” With this, he contrasted Christians’ goal of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and “the true man.” This is “the measure of true humanism.”

This clash is epitomized in what Archbishop Ganswein described as “the dramatic struggle” between two parties in the conclave. He labeled one the “Salt of the Earth” party after the name of a book-length interview with Cardinal Ratzinger. This party gathered around Cardinals Lopez Trujillo, Ruini, Herranz, Rouco Varela and Medina Estevez.

Then there is the highly-liberal “St. Gallen group” gathered around Cardinals Daneels, Martini, Silvestrini and Murphy-O’Connor. This is the group, Archbishop Ganswein noted, that Cardinal Daneels “himself amusedly described as ‘a sort of Mafia-club’.” Cardinal Daneels, in his biography, has suggested that the St. Gallen group was behind election to the papacy of Pope Francis.

Nature Had Spoken

When a massive lightning strike lit up the top of Saint Peter’s dome on the evening of Feb. 11, 2013, many observers chose to interpret this as a divine reaction to the historical announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation, made that very morning. As his personal secretary, Archbishop Gänswein, reminisced about how both he and Benedict only found out about the lightning strike after the event. “The impression was one of a sign from above, a reaction,” he told Badde. When he showed Benedict images of the spectacular incident a few days later, the pope asked whether this was some kind of digital montage, Gänswein said, adding: “however, nature had spoken.”

How Pope Benedict Sees His Decision to Resign Today

Archbishop Gänswein spoke about the painful emotional impact of Benedict’s farewell from the papal office and household. “Indeed, I found myself compelled to openly cry,” he said. However, with three years having passed since, “there has been a lot of reflection, personal reflection included.”

He affirmed that “Pope Benedict was – and to this day all the more is – very much at peace with his decision to resign, and that it was the right step to take. That helped me personally to overcome my initial resistance and accept what Pope Benedict truly realized after much struggle and prayer, what he found to be the right thing and then decided on.”

Benedict’s greatest joys since retiring, Gänswein said, are “to have time for prayer, for reflection and reading – but also for personal encounters,” despite also living “the life of a monk” in the monastery he now resides in.

An Expanded Petrine Ministry

Archbishop Ganswein said that for the last three years, Catholics have witnessed the unprecedented situation of living “with two living successors of Peter among us.” He said Benedict and Francis “are not in competition with each other, though they have an extraordinary presence.”

For Archbishop Ganswein, Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement on Feb. 11, 2013 marked the introduction of a new institution into the Catholic Church: the Pope emeritus. Pope Benedict used a key phrase in his resignation speech: “munus Petrinum.” This phrase is often translated “Petrine Ministry.” According to the archbishop, the Latin word “munus” has many meanings: service, commitment, guide, gift, even wonder.

“Benedict XVI thought of his commitment as a participation in that Petrine ministry,” the archbishop said. “That means that he left the papal throne, but he did not abandon this ministry.”

Benedict XVI now acts “with a collegial and synodal dimension” and a “common ministry” that appears to echo his episcopal and papal motto: ‘cooperatores veritatis,’ ‘cooperators of the Truth’,” he said.

Hence, “since Pope Francis’ election, there are not two Popes, but there is a de facto enlarged ministry, with both an active and a contemplative member.”

The archbishop said that this is why Benedict did not renounce his papal name or give up his white cassock.

“This is the reason why the correct appellation for him is ‘Your Holiness.’ This is finally the reason why he did not retire to an isolated monastery, but within the Vatican walls, as if he just took a step aside to make space for his successor and for a new step in the history of the papacy,” Archbishop Ganswein said.

This is how Benedict XVI has “profoundly and lastingly transformed” the papal ministry during his “exceptional pontificate.”

The ‘Prophecy of the Popes’

During the interview, Paul Badde referenced an old alleged prophecy that has recently gained traction in some clerical discussions: The “Prophesy of the Popes.” Also known as the “Prophesy of Malachy,” the prediction is attributed to Saint Philipp Neri – according to which, Pope Francis may be considered to be the last pope.

“Indeed, when looking at the prophecy, and considering how there was always a sound reference to popes mentioned in its history – that gives me the shivers,” Archbishop Gänswein admitted. Although Catholics aren’t required to accept the prophecy, “speaking from historical experience, one has to say: Yes, it is a wake-up call.”

Theologians Formally Petition Rome for Condemnation of Errors of Amoris Laetitia

On July 11, 2016, a prominent international group of Catholics, academics, theologians and pastors announced that they have formally petitioned Rome to address serious theological problems with the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  “We request that the Cardinals and Patriarchs petition the Holy Father to condemn the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris Laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true,” the signatories wrote.

Among the 45 signatories of the petition are leading Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world.  The group submitted an appeal to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome, requesting that the Cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition His Holiness, Pope Francis, to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from a reading of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia.  A copy of the letter to Cardinal Sodano, together with the thirteen-page theological critique, was sent to all of the 218 Cardinals and Patriarchs around the world.

Describing the exhortation as containing “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals,” the signatories submitted, along with their appeal, a documented list of applicable theological censures specifying “the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris Laetitia.”

The signers announced the existence of the letter so that “Catholics who are troubled by some of the statements in Amoris Laetitia be aware that steps are being taken to address the problems it raises,” said Dr. Joseph Shaw, an Oxford academic and the group’s spokesman.

Shaw also said: “We consider that numerous propositions in Amoris laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.”

The thirteen-page document quotes nineteen passages in the exhortation which seem to conflict with Catholic doctrines. These doctrines include the real possibility with the grace of God of obeying all the commandments, the fact that certain kinds of act are wrong in all circumstances, the headship of the husband, the superiority of consecrated virginity over the married life, and the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The document also argues that the exhortation undermines the Church’s teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who have made no commitment to continence cannot be admitted to the sacraments while they remain in that state.

Amoris Laetitia ‘can mislead Catholics into believing what is false and doing what is forbidden by divine law’

“The apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, issued by Pope Francis on March 19th, 2016 and addressed to bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, Christian married couples, and all the lay faithful, has caused grief and confusion to many Catholics on account of its apparent disagreement with a number of teachings of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. This situation poses a grave danger to souls,” the letter begins. It cited the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that “inferiors are bound to correct their superiors publicly when there is an imminent danger to the faith” and the Latin Code of Canon Law’s affirmation that “the Catholic faithful have the right and at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence, and position, to make known their views on matters which concern the good of the Church.”

The theologians contend. “The problem with the document is that it can mislead Catholics into believing what is false and doing what is forbidden by divine law. … What is important about the document is the damaging effect it can have on the belief and moral life of Catholics.”

Using Sacred Scripture and a number of authoritative Church teachings, particularly from the Council of Trent, the document also condemned suggestions from Amoris Laetitia that:

  • Living according to the teachings of the Gospel may be impossible for some people
  • No one is condemned to hell
  • “The divorced and civilly remarried who choose their situation with full knowledge and full consent of the will are not in a state of serious sin, and that they can receive sanctifying grace and grow in charity,”
  • “A Catholic believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action”
  • “A person with full knowledge of a divine law can sin by choosing to obey that law”
  • One’s conscience can “truly judge” that sexual sins explicitly condemned by the Gospel “can sometimes be morally right or requested or commanded by God”
  • “Our Lord Jesus Christ wills that the Church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried and of refusing absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it”
  • “Absence of grave fault due to diminished responsibility can permit admission to the Eucharist in the cases of divorced and civilly remarried persons who do not separate, nor undertake to live in perfect continence, but remain in an objective state of adultery and bigamy”

“Catholic theologians have a strict duty to speak out against the apparent errors in the document,” the signatories wrote. “This statement on Amoris Laetitia is intended to fulfil that duty, and to assist the hierarchy of the Church in addressing this situation.”

The spokesman said, “It is our hope that by seeking from our Holy Father a definitive repudiation of these errors we can help to allay the confusion already brought about by Amoris laetitia among pastors and the lay faithful.  For that confusion can be dispelled effectively only by an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching by the Successor of Peter.”

Dr Joseph Shaw, an Oxford academic and a signatory to the appeal, is acting as spokesman for this group of Catholic scholars and pastors. The group has set up the email address appealtocardinals@gmail.com to answer press enquiries about the appeal.