VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said there can be no confusion between God's plan for marriage as an indissoluble bond between one man and woman who are open to life, and other sorts of unions.
"The church, in fact, can demonstrate God's unwavering merciful love toward families, especially those wounded by sin and life's trials, and at the same time proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God's plan," the pope said Jan. 22, in a meeting with members of the Roman Rota. The pope holds the annual meeting to inaugurate the Vatican court's judicial year.
Pope Francis said the court, which hears requests for marriage annulments, helps support families and the truth about the sacred bond of marriage.
In evaluating and judging marriage cases and contributing to formation, the Roman Rota helps promote and proclaim the truth, he said.
When the church, through the court's service, seeks to declare the truth about marriage in each specific case, it always bears in mind that those "who, through free choice or unfortunate circumstances in life, live in an objective state of error continue to be the object of the merciful love of Christ and therefore of the church, too."
The two gatherings of the Synod of Bishops focused on the family were occasions of "in-depth, knowledgeable discernment" and they gave the church a chance to tell "the world that there can be no confusion between the family desired by God and any other kind of union," the pope said.
"The family, based on indissoluble, unitive and procreative marriage, is part of God's 'dream' and the church's for the salvation of humanity," he said.
The church will always offer the truth about marriage, he said, "not as an ideal for the few, despite modern examples based on what is fleeting and transitory, but as a reality that, with Christ's grace, can be lived by all the baptized faithful."
That means there is great pastoral urgency for adequate marriage preparation, for example, he said, with a kind of marriage "catechumenate" that was suggested during the synods on the family. A catechumenate would entail a longer process of formation before marriage, as well as during the years right after the wedding.
While the family is considered to be a "domestic church," he said, the church is the family of God. Therefore, the church must be filled with a loving, "family spirit," where people are "no longer strangers and sojourners," but members of God's family, he said.
The church -- as both mother and teacher -- knows that not every one of her children is perfect, he said.
"The church knows that some Christians have a faith that's strong, formed from love, strengthened by good catechesis and nourished by prayer and a sacramental life," the pope said, "while others have a faith that's weak, neglected, unformed, poorly taught or forgotten."
The pope reiterated church teaching that the level of a person's faith "is not an essential condition of matrimonial consent" and in fact, he said, it is not unusual for engaged couples to go into a marriage with a limited understanding of the fullness of God's plan.
"The lack of formation in the faith and even error concerning the unity, indissolubility and the sacramental dignity of marriage invalidate matrimonial consent only when they determine" or condition a person's will, he said.
Precisely for this reason, "errors which concern the sacramentality of marriage must be evaluated very carefully," he said.