Here's Zenit's summary of what the Pope actually said:
The canonical processes for the declaration of marital annulment do not seek to complicate life, or to sharpen tensions, but only to serve the truth, says Benedict XVI.Can one get an amen to that last line?
The Pope addressed the argument Saturday, at the start of the judicial year, when receiving the judges, officials and collaborators of the Roman Rota, the Church's central appellate court.
"The canonical process of annulment of a marriage is essentially an instrument to verify the truth of the conjugal bond," the Holy Father said at the audience.
"Its objective is not, therefore, to vainly complicate the lives of the faithful or much less so to sharpen the disputes, but only to offer a service to truth," he clarified.
"On one hand, it would seem that the Synodal Fathers invited the ecclesiastical tribunals to do everything possible so that the faithful, who are not canonically married, may regulate their marital situation as soon as possible and again approach the Eucharistic banquet," he said.True. Yet, so often, in the real world of marriages ending, of lives being turned upside down, it does appear to be a contradiction. When the local Tribunal is making the IRS seem friendly and efficient, it doesn't help.
On the other hand, the canonical legislation, and in particular the instruction "Dignitas Connubii," published last January by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, seems to place "limits to this pastoral drive, as if the main concern were to comply with the established juridical formalities, with the risk of forgetting the pastoral end of the process," the Holy Father said.
According to the Pontiff, this apparent contradiction is not real, as there is a "fundamental meeting point between law and pastoral care: the love of truth."
However, the Pope indicated that "the truth sought in the processes of marital annulment is not an abstract truth, separated from the good of the individuals. It is a truth that is integrated in the human and Christian itinerary of each of the faithful."I would say, though, that what "reasonable" means in, say, US culture (i.e., "yesterday") and in churchese (~500 years) might be different. Perhaps there can be a happy medium?
Therefore, it "is extremely important" that the declaration of the ecclesiastical tribunals "take place in a reasonable time," he noted.
Amy links to a CWN News report that clarifies things more, and then adds this very salient bit:
And to me, this translates (properly or not) into: stop witnessing the marriage of every baptized Catholic who walks into the rectory and asks for one.I'm going to try and avoid a rant on the whole envelopes-as-canonical-requirement thing. Especially given the experience of one of our alums at a big parish in the area just last week. That aside, the point is, no pun intended, very very valid. One always struggles to see a non-practicing Catholic coming back to the Church for marriage as an opportunity for evangelization, for re-connection. But,obviously, this has to be done in a way that invites them to a re-connection with the truth as well. About marriage and human sexuality, and not just signing the attendance sheet at Mass. She then follows with this quote from a traditional Catholic who started working in a Tribunal, who realizes,
There is much discussion of the high number of annulment cases processed in the US, in particular, but I have just a couple of things to say. First, the majority of couples coming to the Catholic Church to be married are a)living together and b)contracepting and are c)rarely challenged on this by those preparing them for marriage. Many of them are barely catechized on anything, are not regular Mass-goers until Mama gets it into her head that they must be married in the Church and the pastor sternly berates them for not being registered and not having envelopes - a far greater sin that cohabitating, you know - and you're telling me that these marriages are not rife with potential problems with validity?
However, my Tribunal experience has been a real eye-opener, especially in light of the contraceptive and divorce mentality I encounter in most people, including Catholics. In fact, these mentalities are so pervasive within North American society that after four days on the Tribunal I found myself declaring as many marriages invalid as the next judge, often on a canon 1095 basis, and wondering to myself whether any marriage attempted today in North America is valid. In short, as a Traditional Catholic canonist, I can safely say that since the sexual devolution of the sixties, the rise in marriage annulments has not been because of the Second Vatican Council and a more liberal application of canon law, but because of a selfish and unrealistic understanding of what marriage entails by your average person entering into it.That may very well be true. I do hope there is an alternative than the Church just abandoning the whole realm of marriage, which is what such gloomy prognostications would lead one to think. I wonder though, for instance, whether the disappearance of the stigma of divorce has something to do with this as well. Perhaps in earlier times similar problems existed, similar (or other -- say, the lack of freedom on the part of the woman who is being sent off into an arranged marriage somewhere?) impediments were quite common, but couples stayed together because of social pressures? Yes, the degradation of human sexuality in the culture is a huge part of the problem. I don't know that it's the only problem, though.
But then again, we're often looking at people who have grown up watching pornographic sitcoms, who have been subjected to sex-ed programs more graphic than a gynecologist textbook fifty years ago, engaged in pre-marital sex since their early teens, most often shacked up two or three times by the time they marry, see children as an inconvenience, and suddenly we expect them to enter into a sacramental Christian marriage?