VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Marriage and the family are "openly contested" because of "ever more acute secularization," John Paul II warned today.
The Holy Father made this denunciation when he received the judges of the Roman Rota, the Vatican's court of appeals, which can review the decisions of the Church's ordinary courts.
The Pontiff warned that the concept of marriage has been reduced to the point of converting it into "a purely physical, biological and sociological fact, which it is possible to manipulate through technology according to one's interests."
As evidence of the results of this mentality, Archbishop Raffaello Funghini, dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, said that in recent years the number of causes for the declaration of nullity submitted to that institution has increased. On Dec. 31 the tribunal had 1,024 causes pending, he reported.
A declaration of nullity of matrimony is not a divorce. The ecclesiastical courts make such a declaration when there is proof that a marriage, even if it happened formally, was invalid for juridically established reasons. These could include cases where one party is constrained by violence or fear, or lacks the ability to understand the demands of marriage.
The increase in the causes for declaration of nullity, Archbishop Funghini added, is a sign "of the weakening of the sense of the sacred character of the law on which the Christian family is founded, of the anxiety of modern life, the precariousness of social and economic conditions in which it develops, and the danger that all this will threaten the solidity, vitality and happiness of the institution of the family."
Archbishop Funghini denied that a declaration of nullity depends on a person's financial situation. In fact, he told the Pope, the costs of 67% of the cases decided last year by the tribunal were paid by the Vatican itself.
John Paul II said that if marriage becomes a simple biological, social custom, then one can understand why today attempts are being made to present "de facto unions, including homosexual ones, as equivalent to marriage."
"This merely empirical conception of nature," he said, "radically impedes understanding that the human body is not something extrinsic to the person but, together with the spiritual and immortal soul, constitutes an intrinsic principle of the unitary being that the human person is."
The Church certainly conceives of marriage as something "natural," the Pope said. But it also sees marriage in its spiritual and transcendent dimension, because God has raised it to the level of a sacrament, he added.
Hence, this reality is above the tendency, which "unfortunately is very present, to ideologize the notion of matrimony, claiming a different conception for the believer and the nonbeliever, the Catholic and the non-Catholic."
The Holy Father concluded: "Matrimony is not just any union between human persons, susceptible to being configured according to a plurality of cultural models."