Pope Francis, during a question and answer session at the Diocese of Rome's pastoral congress on Thursday, answered a layman's question on the "crisis of marriage" and how the youth can be educated on love and sacramental marriage and be guided to overcome "their resistance, delusions and fears."
According to the National Catholic Register, the pope replied by first speaking about a young man who wished to become a priest, but only for a period of 10 years. This, he said, is the "culture of the provisional."
"It's provisional, and because of this, the great majority (revised on the official transcript as 'some') of our sacramental marriages are null," the pontiff explained. "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."
He narrated a couple of examples, such as a woman in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who said that priests study for years yet they can leave the priesthood to marry, but laymen are given four marriage preparation conferences and are bound for life. He also spoke of a man who was looking for a church that was not only complementary to the dress of his soon-to-be bride but also close to a restaurant.
"It's social issue, and how do we change this? I don't know," the Pope said.
He said that the marriage crisis is because people "don't know what the sacrament is, the beauty of the sacrament" and that "they don't know that it's indissoluble, they don't know that it's for your entire life."
He spoke of couples in Argentina who live together, but only "get married religiously" when they become grandparents. While he acknowledged that cohabitation is a challenge, he also 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, but there are local superstitions, etc."
In a series of tweets, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat expressed his argument against what the pope said. In one, he wrote: "From a Catholic perspective, the West's obvious problem is too few marriages, not too many invalid ones." In another, he said, "And responding to this problem by arguing that the marriages we *do* have are mostly null is a weird and un-Catholic counsel of despair."
Fox 29 quotes Mathew Schmitz, the editor of First Things Magazine, as saying, "By saying that the vast majority of marriages are null, Pope Francis instead gave Catholics, who are struggling in their marriages, a message of despair."