VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI told priests Saturday to do a better job counseling would-be spouses to ensure their marriages last and said no one has an absolute right to a wedding.
Benedict made the comments in his annual speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal that decides marriage annulments. An annulment is the process by which the church effectively declares that a marriage never took place.
Benedict acknowledged that the problems that would allow for a marriage to be annulled cannot always be identified beforehand. But he said better pre-marriage counseling, which the Catholic Church requires of the faithful, could help avoid a "vicious circle" of invalid marriages.
He said the right to a church wedding requires that the bride and groom intend to celebrate and live the marriage truthfully and authentically.
"No one can make a claim to the right to a nuptial ceremony," he said.
Benedict has used his annual speech to the Rota to impress on its members the indissolubility of marriage and that they should avoid the temptation of granting annulments on a whim. Last year, he urged the tribunal to work harder to encourage couples to stay together and not confuse "pastoral charity" with the need to uphold church law.
On Saturday, Benedict said priests had an important pastoral job to discern whether would-be spouses are prepared and able to enter into a valid marriage.
"The church and society at large place too much importance on the good of marriage and the family founded on it to not make a profound commitment to it pastorally," Benedict said.
The Vatican's concern about marriage annulments is largely directed at the United States, which in 2006 had more annulment cases launched than the rest of the world combined.