VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2003 ( A key cause of the crisis of the family is the crisis of the meaning of God characteristic of secularized societies, says John Paul II.

The Pope expressed this concern, which "I feel particularly in my heart," when he met today with judges of the Roman Rota, in his traditional annual encounter.

This Vatican Court of Appeals reviews the judgments made by ecclesiastical tribunals. These cases are, to a great extent, appeals on sentences of declarations of nullity of marriages presented to Rome, the Pope noted.

The Catholic Church considers marriage indissoluble for life, but it can establish, after a rigorous process, that on occasions there are marriages that were never valid for reasons contained in the Code of Canon Law.

"Today's mentality, highly secularized, tends to affirm the human values of the institution of the family by separating them from religious values and proclaiming them all together autonomous from God," the Pope explained.

"Fascinated by models of life proposed too often by the mass media, the question is asked: 'Why must one always be faithful to one's spouse?' and this question becomes existential doubt in critical situations," he said.

"Conjugal difficulties can be of various kinds, but all stem in the end from a problem of love," the Pope added. "Therefore, the preceding question can be reformulated thus: Why must one always love the other, even when there are so many motives, apparently justified, that would impel one to leave the other?"

"Many answers can be given, among which, without a doubt, the good of the children and the good of the whole society are very forceful," the Holy Father said. "But the most radical answer passes first of all through recognition of the objectivity of being spouses, seen as reciprocal gift, made possible and guaranteed by God himself."

He continued: "This is why the ultimate reason for the duty of faithful love is none other than that which is at the basis of the divine Covenant with man: God is faithful! Therefore, to render heartfelt faithfulness to one's spouse, even in the hardest cases, one must appeal to God, with the certainty of receiving help."

So, the Pope concluded, "the crisis over the meaning of God and over the meaning of moral good and evil has succeeded in obscuring the knowledge of the foundations of marriage itself and of the family that is founded on it."