The right of a man and woman to marry each other is contingent upon their juridical ability to do so, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this in a reflection on the relationship between law and pastoral care, which he gave upon receiving in audience on Saturday the judges, officials, lawyers and collaborators of the Roman Rota, the Church's central appellate court, at the opening of the judicial year.
Quoting Pope John Paul II's 1990 address to the same tribunal, Benedict affirmed, "It is not true that to be more pastoral the law must make itself less juridical."
"The juridical dimension and the pastoral dimension," he added, continuing to quote his predecessor, "are inseparably united in the pilgrim Church on this earth. First of all, there is their harmony that derives from their common finality: the salvation of souls."
To this end, Benedict XVI embarked on a consideration of the "juridical dimension that is inherent in the pastoral activity of preparation and admission to marriage" in an attempt to "shed light on the connection between such activity and the judicial matrimonial processes."
He noted that the relationship between law and pastoral care "is often the object of misunderstandings, to the detriment of law, but also to the detriment of pastoral work. On the contrary, it is necessary to promote in all sectors, and in a special way in that of marriage and the family, profound harmony between the pastoral and the juridical, which will certainly show itself to be fruitful for those who approach marriage."
Regarding the place of "canonical questions" in marriage preparation courses, Benedict XVI noted a common misconception that that "in admitting couples to marriage, pastors must proceed with generosity since the natural right of the persons to marry is in play."
The right to marriage, or "ius connubii," the Pontiff explained, "presupposes that one can marry, and one intends to authentically celebrate marriage, that is, to do so in the truth of its essence as it is taught by the Church."
"No one can boast of a right to a nuptial ceremony," he continued. "The 'ius connubii,' in fact, refers to the right to celebrate a real marriage.
"The 'ius connubii,' therefore, is not being denied where it is evident that the premises for its exercise are not present, that is, if the requested capacity to wed is manifestly lacking, or an objective is sought that is contrary to the natural reality of marriage."
Regarding marriage preparation, Benedict XVI affirmed that the the various phases have purposes that "transcend the juridic dimension," but that "we must never forget that the immediate objective of such preparation is that of promoting the free celebration of an authentic marriage, that is, the constituting of a bond of justice and love between the couple, with the characteristics of unity and indissolubility, ordained to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children, and which between baptized persons constitutes one of the sacraments of the New Covenant."
The Pontiff said that the juridical aspect is not promoting "an extrinsic ideological message," nor is it imposing a "cultural model." Rather, he explained, "the betrothed are made able to discover the truth of a natural inclination and a capacity for commitment that is inscribed in the being of their man-woman relationship. Law as an essential component of the matrimonial relation flows from here; it is rooted in a natural power of the couple that is actualized in consensual self-giving."
In order to assess whether or not an intended marriage, a pre-marriage examination must be conducted, the Pope explained. "This examination has a principally juridical purpose: to judge that nothing is opposed to the valid and licit celebration of the marriage," he stated.
The Holy Father called the interview "a unique pastoral event," which should be "valued for all the seriousness and attention that it demands."
"Through a dialogue full of respect and cordiality," he explained, "the pastor tries to help the person seriously place himself before the truth about himself and his human and Christian vocation to marriage. In this case the dialogue, always conducted with man and woman separately -- without diminishing the importance of other conversations with the couple -- requires a climate full of sincerity in which their must be an emphasis on the fact that those entering into the contract are the ones primarily concerned and primarily obligated in conscience to celebrate a valid matrimony."
Benedict XVI asserted that with more careful juridical marriage preparation, the "vicious circle" of "careless admission to marriage" and a declaration of nullity that is "sometimes just as careless," could be broken.
"In light of this," he continued, "it is evidently important that there be a more acute awareness of the responsibility that those charged with the care of souls have in these matters. Canon law in general, and that dealing with marriage and trials in particular, certainly demands a special preparation, but a knowledge of the basic and the immediately practical aspects of Canon Law, relative to our proper functions, constitutes a formative exigency of fundamental relevance for all pastoral workers, in particular for those who are engaged in the pastoral care of families."
The Pontiff also urged all ecclesiastical tribunals to "send an univocal message about what is essential to marriage in harmony with the magisterium and Canon Law, speaking with one voice."