Most modern marriages are invalid, Pope says in off-the-cuff remarks

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Pope Francis said Thursday that the majority of today's marriages are invalid because most couples don't understand that marriage is meant to be permanent.

"We live in a culture of the provisional," Francis said in response to a question from an audience member about the "crisis of marriage" after his address opening a pastoral conference of the Diocese of Rome.

Audio of the pope's remarks at St. John Lateran Basilica was posted late Thursday by Vatican Radio.

Francis said modern couples don't comprehend the importance of the sacrament of marriage, which he said is "indissoluble."

"Young people say 'for life,' but they do not know what it means," he said.

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And because they get married with the philosophy that a marriage can be ended if it becomes an "inconvenience," their marriages are "nulli," he said, using an Italian word that can be translated as "baseless" or "invalid."

Francis said that when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he refused to allow couples to marry if the woman was already pregnant. Such couples were likely to be marrying because of the pregnancy and not of their own free will, he said.

In the audio, applause can be heard at the end of the pope's answer, which came after a 25-minute address on his 2015 document Amoris Laetitia, or "Love and Joy." The document warned that "separatism" and individualism were threatening to tear apart the lifelong partnerships that are the bedrock of families.

Separatism has extended to all aspects of Catholic life, the pope said Thursday — even to the church itself. He used as an example priests who refuse to baptize the children of single mothers, calling it "cruelty."

"This is individualism, an individualism that affects all of society, that seeks pleasure, that is hedonist," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Francis greeted circus performers at what was billed as a Jubilee for Circus and Traveling Show People. Among those meeting the pope was a 6-month-old tiger, which he was invited to feed with a bottle.

RELATED: Pope Francis in the wind

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Pope Francis in the wind
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Pope Francis in the wind
A combination photo shows a gust of wind blowing Pope Francis' mantle during his weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
A gust of wind blows off Pope Francis' mantle as he speaks during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
A combination photo shows a gust of wind blowing Pope Francis' skullcap during his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi
The wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he leaves at the end of the Jubilee audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Alessaandro Bianchi
The wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he leaves at the end of the Jubilee audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Alessaandro Bianchi 
A combination photo shows a gust of wind blowing Pope Francis' mantle during his weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
The wind blows Pope Francis' (L) mantle as he arrives at a Jubilee audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
The wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he leaves at the end of the mass for the Armed Forces Jubilee in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
A gust of wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he stands at the balcony of St. John's in Lateran basilica after celebrating a solemn mass in Rome in this combination picture April 7, 2013. The pontiff officially took possession of the basilica which is his cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ITALY - Tags: RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Pope Francis talks with Archbishop Georg Ganswein as a gust of wind blows his mantle during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Pope Francis holds his mantle blown by a gust of wind as he leads the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Tony Gentile 
The wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he leads a Jubilee audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
The wind blows Pope Francis' mantle as he leads a Jubilee audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
Pope Francis has his vestments fly up due to the wind as he delivers remarks on the theme "We Hold These Truths," a quote from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, September 26 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Pope Francis has his vestments fly up over his head due to the wind as he delivers remarks in front of a statue of George Washington on the theme "We Hold These Truths," a quote from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, September 26 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
A gust of wind blows Pope Francis' mantle over his face as he leads the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile 
A gust of wind blows off Pope Francis' cap during his arrival at the airport in Havana September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
A gust of wind lifts Pope Francis' mantle during his arrival at the airport in Havana, September 19, 2015. Pope Francis begins a nine-day tour of Cuba and the United States on Saturday where he will see both the benefits and complexities of a fast-evolving detente between the old Cold War foes that he helped broker. Better sensitized to the issue than predecessors because of his Latin American roots, the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff facilitated a back channel for talks and sent missives to Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama in 2014. REUTERS/Claudia Daut
A gust of wind blows the mantle of Pope Francis as he leads his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi
A gust of wind blows Pope Francis's skull cap off as a priest tries to grab it during his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Archbishop Georg Ganswein (L) helps Pope Francis with his mantle as a gust of wind blows at the end of the ceremony for the canonisation of four nuns at Saint Peter's square in the Vatican City, May 17, 2015. The four nuns being canonised include two Palestininan nuns, Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, founder of the first Catholic congregation in Palestine, and Mariam Baouardy Haddad, who established a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
A gust of wind blows the mantle of Pope Francis as he stands next to Sri Lanka's newly elected president Mithripala Sirisena (not seen) at the Colombo airport January 13, 2015. Pope Francis said on Tuesday Sri Lanka needed to find out the truth of what happened during its long civil war in order to consolidate peace and heal scars between religious communities. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
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