The Catholic Church considers marriage indissoluble for life, but, following a rigorous process, it may establish that at times there are marriages that were never valid for reasons established in canon law. This could include reasons of age, violence or mental incapacity.
The Pope told the judges, officials and lawyers of the Roman Rota, the Church's central appellate court, that theological reference to truth is what should guide all those involved in such a process. The Rota handles cases involving declarations of marital nullity.
Realizing that there is a "more or less open" skepticism "on the human capacity to know the truth on the validity of a marriage," the Holy Father stressed the need of "a renewed confidence in human reason, both in relation to the essential aspects of marriage as well as in that which concerns the particular circumstances of each union."
He said on Thursday that "often, the real problem is not so much the presumption [of the validity of the marriage], but the whole view of marriage itself and, therefore, the process to establish the validity of its celebration. This process is essentially inconceivable outside the horizon of the search for the truth."
"The tendency to extend nullities instrumentally, neglecting the horizon of the objective truth, entails a structural distortion of the whole process: The instruction loses its incisive character as the result is predetermined," the Pope emphasized.
John Paul II added: "An authentically juridical consideration of marriage requires a metaphysical vision of the human person and of the conjugal relationship."
Without it, "the marital institution becomes a simple extrinsic superstructure, the result of the law and of social conditioning, limiting the person in his free fulfillment," he stressed.
The Holy Father concluded: "It is necessary to discover again the truth, goodness and beauty of the marital institution which, being the work of God himself through human nature and of the freedom of the consent of the spouses, continues to be an indissoluble personal reality, bond of justice and love, ever united to the plan of salvation and raised in the fullness of time to the dignity of a Christian sacrament."