VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II said Saturday the Catholic Church needs to do more to help encourage lasting marriages, saying the secular world has lost sight of the religious aspects of matrimony.
"Many today have a clear understanding of the secular nature of marriage, which includes the rights and responsibilities modern societies hold as determining factors for a marital contract," John Paul said during an audience with U.S. bishops from Texas and Oklahoma. But, he said, there are "some who appear to lack a proper understanding of the intrinsically religious dimension of this covenant."
"Modern society rarely pays heed to the permanent nature of marriage," the pope said, in an apparent reference to divorce, which the Catholic Church forbids.
"In fact, the attitude towards marriage found in contemporary culture demands that the Church seek to offer better pre-marital instruction aimed at forming couples in this vocation," as well as ensure that young people, "many of whom are from broken homes," are educated about marriage, the pope said.
In recent months, John Paul has denounced what he has called "attempts to reduce marriage to a mere individual contract," and has urged authorities to stop approving gay marriages. His speech on Saturday about family life contained no reference to the debate raging in the United States over decisions by some authorities to allow marriage between homosexuals.
John Paul told the U.S. churchmen, who were making a periodic visit to the pope required of all bishops, that the Church needs to be more supportive of families.
The Church must "share the hurts and struggles of families, as well as their joys," he said.