|If Adam and Eve are Paradigm Spouses, Who is Married?|
Pope Francis said Thursday that many sacramental marriages today are not valid, because couples do not enter into them with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment.
While he initially said in unscripted comments that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null,” he later approved a revision of these remarks. When the Vatican released its official transcript of the encounter the following day, they had changed the comment to say that “a portion of our sacramental marriages are null.”Most of the attacks on Francis' position are really grounded in the policies supporting canon law's presumptions in favor of a valid marriage in disciplinary proceedings. They think questioning the validity of most marriages will undermine those in troubled marriages because if such people are told that their marriages are probably invalid anyway, they are more likely to proceed to annulment and divorce.
And, the presumption in favor of marital validity seems right as a canonical policy. If two people come to a church with a record of marriage, you ought to presume they are married. The alternative would be to treat them as unmarried until they offered proof and a de novo judgment had been made about whether they were married. It would weaken the protection of the rights and obligations of marriage to be constantly questioning and requiring new proof of marital validity. If a man and a woman present themselves with an authenticated record of marriage, we ought to presume that they are married for disciplinary purposes, like deciding whether one of them can marry someone else.
But I don't think Francis' remarks are best taken as sounding in canon law or attacking its presumption. It reads like an absolute judgment concerning modern culture before the background of absolute theological truth. (Francis' skepticism about canon law is well known.) Against Francis' neocon opponents, I think Francis' attack on modern marriages is important and timely, especially given the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, the propriety of the unmarried having sex and bearing children, and marriages formed with no sense of a general duty to seek and educate children. Real belief in any of these logically conflicts with the intent necessary to form a marriage. This is enough to raise serious questions.