ROME, January 28, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Developing one of the main themes of his pontificate, Benedict XVI warned on Saturday against the temptation to a relativistic understanding of marriage.

In a speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican’s legal office that deals mainly with marriage annulment cases, Benedict reiterated that marriage is an “irrevocable covenant between man and woman.”

But “contemporary culture, marked by a strong subjectivism and moral and religious relativism, places before the individual and family pressing challenges.”

Questions, he said, are being widely raised whether it is even possible to create a bond that lasts a lifetime or whether such a thing “corresponds to human nature,” or whether it is fundamentally opposed to human freedom.

“It is part of a widespread mentality,” Benedict said, “to think that a person becomes himself only by remaining ‘independent’ and coming into contact with others only through relationships that can be interrupted at any time.”

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Rejecting faith, said the pope, leads to “a profound imbalance in all human relationships, including marriage, and facilitates an erroneous understanding of freedom and self-realization.

“These, together with the flight from patiently borne suffering, condemns humanity to becoming locked within its own selfishness and self-centredness. On the contrary, accepting faith makes human persons capable of giving themselves … and thus of discovering the extent of being a human person."

The pope recognized the sacrifice of those spouses who have been “abandoned” or suffered a divorce, but who continue to be faithful to their marriage vows and do not get involved in a new relationship. “In such cases their example of fidelity and Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before the world and the Church',” he said.

The pope also noted that while the minimum that is required formally for a sacramental marriage is the intention to “do what the Church intends,” a lack of mutual faith on the part of spouses can hamper the basic validity of marriage. He quoted a previous Vatican commission on the question that said if the spouses “do not feel any trace of faith as such … nor any desire for grace and salvation,” it is questionable whether there can be the necessary intention for a sacramental marriage.

He told the assembled prelates, “Don’t let it escape your consideration that there might be cases where, precisely because of the absence of faith, the good of the spouses is damaged and thus excluded from the consent itself.”

He added: “I certainly do not wish to suggest any facile relationship between a lack of faith and the invalidity of a marital union, but rather to highlight how such a deficiency may, but not necessarily, damage the goods of marriage, since the reference to the natural order desired by God is inherent to the conjugal covenant.”