Image: Pope Benedict XVI
Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Pope Benedict XVI pictured during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at The Vatican on Jan. 13, 2010.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/29/2010 10:40:54 AM ET 2010-01-29T15:40:54

Pope Benedict XVI has urged church tribunals to work harder to encourage couples to stay married and not resort to granting annulments "at all costs."

An annulment is the process by which the church effectively declares that a marriage never took place. Many Catholics seek them so they can remarry in the church and receive Communion.

Benedict told members of the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal that decides marriage annulments, that they shouldn't confuse "pastoral charity" in granting annulments with their need to uphold church law.

"It is important that effective efforts be made, whenever there seems to be hope of a successful outcome, to encourage the spouses to convalidate their marriage and restore conjugal cohabitation," the Pope told the Roman Rota, according to a statement issued by the Vatican Information Service.

"It would be a false advantage to ease the way towards receiving the Sacraments, at the risk of causing people to live in objective contrast with the truth of their own individual state."

High number of U.S. annulments
The Vatican's concern largely is seen as being mainly directed at the United States, which in 2006 had more annulment cases launched than the rest of the world combined.

"It is necessary to take account of the tendency - widespread and well-rooted though not always obvious - to contrast justice with charity, almost as if the one excluded the other," the Pope said.

"Some people maintain that pastoral charity justifies any measures taken towards the declaration of nullity of the marriage bond.

"Your ministry is essentially a work of justice, a virtue... of which it is more important than ever to rediscover the human and Christian value, also within the Church.

"Canon Law must always be considered in its essential relationship with justice, maintaining an awareness that the Church's juridical activity has as its goal the salvation of souls."

He said they must take account of each specific case "with delicacy and attentiveness."

But if there was uncertainty, then the clergy should not grant an annulment, he added.

"Marriage enjoys the favor of the law. Hence, in case of doubt, a marriage must be held to be valid until the contrary is proven," Benedict said.

"Otherwise we run the serious risk of remaining without an objective point of reference for pronouncements of nullity, transforming all conjugal difficulties into a symptom of a failed union whose essential nucleus of justice - the indissoluble bond - is thus effectively denied."

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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