VATICAN CITY • Pope Francis has said the"great majority" of Catholic marriages being celebrated today are invalid because couples do not fully realise it is a lifetime commitment, drawing sharp criticism from Church conservatives.
The Pope, who has come under fire before for making spontaneous comments about doctrinal matters, was speaking at a question- and-answer session with priests, nuns and parish workers on Thursday night in a Rome basilica.
"We are living in a provisional culture," he said, in response to a man who spoke of "the crisis of marriage" and asked how the Church could better prepare young couples.
"Because of this, a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null because they (the couple) say 'yes, for the rest of my life' but they don't know what they are saying because they have a different culture," the Pope said.
In the Vatican's transcript issued yesterday, his words were changed to read "some" instead of "a great majority".
A Vatican spokesman said the Pope's off-the-cuff remarks are sometimes edited after consulting with him or among aides.
Critics appeared to take the Pope's words as a suggestion that most Catholics do not take their marriage vows seriously.
Conservative Catholic writer and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat said in one of some 20 tweets on the subject that the Pope had made "an extraordinary, irresponsible and ridiculous claim".
First Things Catholic magazine editor Matthew Schmitz called him "wrong and irresponsible".
Mr Edward Peters, a US canon lawyer who has been an adviser to the Vatican, wrote that the Pope's words were "very bad" because they could spur couples in difficult marriages to "give up now" instead of trying to overcome problems.
The Catholic Church teaches that a marriage can be ended only by death or an annulment - a Church ruling that it was not valid in the first place because it lacked prerequisites such as free will and psychological maturity.
Conservatives also chided the Pope for saying at the same meeting that priests should not pressure cohabitating couples if they were not ready to get married.
He said the priests should "let fidelity ripen".