Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cohabitation: Maintaining Sanity

With the announcement that Pope Francis intends to marry couples who are publicly living in sin by cohabiting, some Catholics have sunk to a depth of denial and contradiction that I did not think possible. The scandal took place today, according to sources (here and here).

This is not some kind of hype pushed by the secular media. The fact that cohabiting couples will be among those receiving the sacrament comes straight from the press release issued by the Vicariate of Rome, which stated that among those being married by Francis "there are those who are already cohabiting", as reported by CNS. The ceremony will also include couples with children born out of wedlock.

The marriage of people cohabiting is a destructive scandal and offensive to those brave parish priests who over the years have steadfastly refused to marry couples who are living together outside of marriage. These faithful priests - who are usually in the minority and receive very little support from their bishops - understand that a couple cohabiting prior to marriage have no real understanding of the Catholic Church's moral teachings and even less knowledge of the purpose of the sacrament. They also know that marriages where couples cohabit first are much more likely to fail, inasmuch cohabiting couples demonstrate a lack of willingness to sacrifice and engender a disposition towards selfish behavior. Many of us traditional Catholics, or even just conservative Catholics who uphold Christian morality, have applauded these heroic pastors who have the guts to buck the trend and refuse matrimony to cohabiting couples.

But now that Pope Francis is doing this very thing, many of these folks don't know what to do. As is usually the case when this pope scandalizes the faithful, they have generally responded with "I don't see a problem here", "what's the big deal?", "this is really nothing new", and the like. Typical Franciscan-pontificate spin.

"Boniface, the Church has always married people who have previously been living in sin. This is nothing new."

The Church has always married people who had previously been living in sin; she has no custom of marrying people who are currently living in sin. And some of these couples are currently living in unrepentant sin, as the press release says they are "already cohabiting"; i.e., they are living together right now. Obviously, nobody has a problem with the Church offering sacraments to single mothers living chastely or people who were once notorious sinners but have repented; to offer them the sacrament while they are persisting in unrepentant sin is another matter entirely.

"But Boniface, you are being judgmental. How do you know they are unrepentant? You don't know their hearts."

In the Catholic Faith, what we do is extremely important. When the people came to St. John the Baptist asking how they could be saved, he told them "Bear fruits that befit repentance" (Luke 3:8). We demonstrate our repentance by our actions. A true conversion, a metanoia, means actively turning away from a sinful lifestyle and embracing holiness. Hence St. John Vianney withheld absolution from a man who had refused to stop dancing in the local saloon and St. Cyprian withheld distribution of alms from certain people unless they gave up attending the Roman spectacles. Can you imagine the scandal today if a priest refused to absolve somebody unless they stopped going to the bar on Fridays or if he refused to feed the poor if they didn't stop going to see R-rated movies? How Pharisaic! Yet these saints knew that a sincere change of heart would invariably be coupled with a change of lifestyle, and if they did not see the "fruits that befit repentance", they presumed there was no repentance and withheld their ministrations. A person who persists in their sin is not repentant; rather, they are like a fool, according to Proverbs: "A dog that returns to its vomit is like a fool who reverts to his folly" (Prov. 26:11).

I know a thief is unrepentant if he keeps stealing; I know a cohabiting couple is unrepentant if they keep cohabiting. Simple as that.

"There you go judging again. How can you have any knowledge of whether or not the cohabiting couples are still sinning? You don't know what goes on in the bedroom. They could be cohabiting but living chastely. We ought to presume the best."

Let me say this as plainly as possible; in fact, let me be so blunt that I am actually going to resort to using all caps, which I seldom do: COHABITING ITSELF IS SINFUL, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SEXUAL ACTIVITY GOES ON.

The spin-doctors are essentially saying that while a couple may be living together outside of wedlock, they may be living chastely in that situation, and therefore we cannot and should not presume they are fornicating just because they are living under the same roof. We ought to "assume the best."

This position misses several things.

First, how many people do you know who cohabit but do not have sexual relations? In my twelve years as a Catholic, I can think of one. Now, how many people do you know in the world, in your family, in your workplace, in your parish - wherever - how many people do you know who cohabit and do have sexual relations? Yeah. So this mythical "chaste cohabiting couple" is in the same category as the "extraordinary minister", where the adjective is there to make us feel better but in practice has no meaning.

"Boniface, you are talking about non-believers cohabiting - worldly people. The pope is marrying Catholics."

Catholics who cohabit before marriage are being worldly and are, in some sense, non-believers, at least as regards the Church's moral teaching, which they evidently do not believe or they would not cohabit.

Furthermore, regarding "presuming the best about people", we must recall that when people are living together, we actually do not presume chastity; we presume they are sexually active, and the Church always has. This is because an adult man and woman living a common life together is a state proper only to marriage; hence, when we see a man and a woman living together and don't know differently, we default to assuming they are married - which obviously means we assume the relations proper to marriage. If a man and a woman share a house, it is presumed they share a bed; and if they share a bed, well, heh know.

In fact, it is natural for people to assume sexual relations whenever they see any male and female in any close relationship. When I was watching the winter Olympics figure-skating with my extended family this year, my 15 year old nephew remarked, "So, do you think they do it?" Given the great amounts of time the skaters spend rehearsing in each other's company, as well as the skin-tight suits, intimate poses, and emotional intensity of the profession, it was natural for him - as well as for many - to assume sexual relations between figure-skating pairs.

The Church has always presumed a cohabiting couple were having sexual relations. This is why living together outside of marriage has been referred to as "living in sin." It was never engaging in the act of fornication that was primarily known as "living in sin"; rather, it was extramarital cohabitation that constituted "living in sin". Fornication was merely - and quite rationally - assumed. We, also, are not wrong in assuming that cohabiting couples are fornicating.

Third, given that cohabitation is referred to as "living in sin", we need to recall that cohabitation itself is sinful, as I exclaimed in all caps above. There are several reasons for this; as mentioned above, because people presume you are fornicating, it becomes a scandal. This is true even in the unlikely event that no fornication happens. A blind man who walks into an adult bookstore still commits the sin of scandal by merely going in, even if his blindness means he doesn't look at pornography while he is in there. This is because anyone who sees him go in and doesn't know the particulars about his blindness will naturally assume he is looking at porn while in the store.

Besides being scandalous, cohabitation also puts couples in a near occasion of sin on a daily basis, almost perpetually, in fact. This is why we keep our teenage daughters and sons away from compromising situations with members of the opposite sex. Duh. When did this become so complicated? You take a male and a female, let them share a home, and chances are very good that they will share a bed - and if that happens, forget about it.

So, because cohabitation sends a message that sex is happening, and because there is a tremendous likelihood that sex will in fact happen, it is scandalous and sinful. Can you think of any other activity that is scandalous and a near occasion of sin but which apologists would be hesitant condemning?

"Fair enough, Boniface, but this is a pastoral call that the pope has the right to make. He has the jurisdiction to marry whom he chooses and it is not our place to call that judgment into question."

Very well. I will not judge Francis. I appeal to the words of St. John Paul II, who wrote about those who "presume that the true and proper marriage will take place only after a period of cohabitation" in Familiaris Consortio. After summarizing the variety of reasons people cohabit - ranging from economic distress to custom to mere pleasure seeking - the pope stated that each of these situations of cohabitation

presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness) [Familiaris Consortio, 81]

By the way, for those who are no longer accustomed to traditional theological vocabulary, the use of the adjective "grave" generally means "mortally sinful."

Also, did you notice that St. John Paul II applies all these consequences to cohabitation as such? He does not seem to envision nor give much credence to the possibility of chaste cohabitation, nor do any of the reasons for extramarital common life negate the consequences he enumerates.

So, the question becomes: If this holy, wise and sainted-pontiff states that cohabitation has serious moral, social and religious consequences, including psychological damage to children, destruction of the family, establishment in selfishness - as well as the guilt of mortally sinful scandal for those engaged in it and the deprivation of the grace of the sacrament of marriage - are these people properly disposed to be married?

If according to St. John Paul II cohabitation before marriage results in the deprivation of the grace of the sacrament, how on earth can one say that cohabiting couples can possibly be properly disposed or in any sense fit for matrimony? Let St. John Paul II judge Francis.

"Well Boniface, you make a good case, but ultimately these marriages are all valid, so this is just your opinion."

Uh...I didn't suggest they weren't valid. Is this really relevant? Dr. Peters has an interesting article looking at the validity of marriages conferred on cohabiting couples. Of course, he states that they are perfectly valid but kind of punks out by sidestepping the question of the pastoral implications of such marriages, only stating that the pastoral problems "might be a bigger deal."

That's an understatement!

I really hope we don't have to go over the whole discussion about validity and propriety again. A Eucharist consecrated on a card table at a poker game is valid if correct matter, form, minister and intent are used. That does not make it proper. It can be valid and still seriously scandalous; in fact, in the case of the Eucharist, such a consecration would be sacrilegious and scandalous precisely because the consecration would be valid.

Similarly, hiding behind the mere validity of a marriage conferred upon a cohabiting couple is no way to get around the huge pastoral implications such a practice would have. Has the world turned upside down that I am now concerned with pastoral implications?!

I would also like to opine, however, that Dr. Peters errs in one point. He says in his article quoted above:

"Canonically, this is a non-issue. No divine, natural, or canon law impedes a wedding between cohabiting persons (cc. 1083-1094) and therefore the fundamental right of the faithful to the sacraments in general (cc. 213, 843) and to marriage particular (c. 1058) should prevail in such cases. Unquestionably, these couples can, and must be allowed to wed."

Dr. Peters suggests that, unless impeded by some canonical impediment, there is absolutely no reason any Catholic couple can ever be legitimately denied access to the sacrament of matrimony. I dispute this point. It is very true that, regarding matrimony, there are no natural, divine, or canonical impediments based on cohabitation. But there is grounds for denial of the sacrament in the canons regarding administration of sacraments in general.

First, canon 843§1 states that "Sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them." Dr. Peters cites this canon in support of his argument that cohabiting couples "can, and must be allowed to wed."

However, he does not delve into what it means for a couple to be "properly disposed." Since being "properly disposed" is a condition for reception of any sacrament, it is understood by implication and practice that any sacrament may be denied to any Catholic who is not properly disposed. This is why pastors do First Communion interviews, Confirmation interviews, etc.

Who decides whether a couple is properly disposed for marriage? Canon 843§2 says, "According to their respective offices in the Church, both pastors of souls and all other members of Christ's faithful have a duty to ensure that those who ask for the sacraments are prepared for their reception. This should be done through proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, in accordance with the norms laid down by the competent authority."

In the case of marriage, pastors are to ensure proper disposition through "personal preparation for entering marriage, so that the spouses are disposed to the holiness and the obligations of their new state" (1062§2), while traditionally the laity participate by making pastors aware of any impediments to marriage; hence the traditional publishing of the banns.

Thus, there does exist a canonical rationale for a pastor to deny the sacrament of matrimony to two Catholics; that is, he can always deny it on the grounds that they are not properly disposed. Does cohabitation before marriage prove a proper disposition is lacking? The purpose of any sacrament is to communicate the grace proper to it. Given that Pope St. John Paul II stated that cohabitation before marriage results in a deprivation of sacramental grace and is a grave scandal, a pastor who refuses to confer marriage on a cohabiting couple would be justified based on Canon 843§2 and Familiaris Consortio 81, which would suggest that such a couple would not be properly disposed.

As a side note, a priest may also refuse to officiate at the marriage of "a person who has notoriously rejected the catholic faith" (1073§4). Traditionally this has been interpreted to refer to outright apostasy, though a person who rejects a certain portion of the Church's teaching could be said to have rejected the faith, insofar as the faith must be kept "whole and undefiled" (Quicumque Vult) and that "whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all" (cf. James 2:10).

Furthermore, canon 1092§2 lists among persons "incapable of contracting marriage...those who suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgement concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted. I believe this canon is meant to apply to persons who suffer from developmental disabilities. However, since the canon does not explicitly say that, if a person of sound mind is so dense as to either not understand or reject the Church's teaching on the exclusivity of intercourse to within the marital bond itself, one could make a case that they "suffer from a grace lack of discretionary judgment": concerning the nature of matrimony and hence should not be married. These latter two arguments from canons 1073 and 1092 are only speculative; the argument from Canon 843§2 and Familiaris Consortio 81 is much stronger, in my opinion.

So, yes, I take issue with the opinion that cohabiting couples "can, and must be allowed to wed" if they ask for it. Many pastors have presumed such couples are not properly disposed and have denied them on those grounds, as they have every right and duty to based on canon law and tradition.

"Boniface, marriage offers a way for them to regularize their situation. Do you want them to remain in sin?"

Of course not. I want them to turn their union into a sacramental, grace-filled union. To do so, they must be properly disposed to receive the sacrament. Part of that disposition is abstaining from intercourse prior to marriage, which among other things, you do by not living together. If a cohabiting couple is serious about wanting to regularize their situation, let them cease cohabitation at once and make a sacramental confession. Then let them maintain purity for the remainder of the preparatory process, which is a sign that they are serious about "bearing fruit that befits repentance." It's as simple as that.

I want every Catholic to receive communion weekly. That doesn't mean I want to dispense with the regulations surrounding who and when communion can be received; it means I want all Catholics to observe those regulations. Two Catholics certainly have a right to marry - but not on any terms they choose. Everyone understands this principle when it comes to the other sacraments. Why some Catholics are now hemming and hawing when it comes to matrimony is beyond me.

One last thought: It rubs me the wrong way that this is being done for political purposes. Do you think the pope goes out to marry twenty couples and it is a coincidence that they are all either living in sin or come from irregular situations? Of course that is not a coincidence. These people were chosen to send a message, and the fact that this is occurring so close to the opening of the Synod on the Family is very meaningful. It saddens me that these people were chosen not based on their suitability for reception of the sacrament, but in order to send a message about the pope's agenda. It is as if Francis went out and said, "Go dig up some cohabiting people for me to marry so I can make a point", just like when he went to Korea he requested whatever "the smallest car possible" was in order to make sure he looked sufficiently humble. The administration of the sacrament is being co-opted to push the envelope for the progressive attempts to loosen all the disciplines surrounding marriage.

Yes, this is a scandal. Many in the Church hierarchy may have lost their minds on this matter, but at least let us maintain sanity on this issue. Cohabiting before marriage is sinful and those who present themselves for marriage while cohabiting are not properly disposed and should not receive the sacrament until the "bear fruit that befits repentance."

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Just Another European said...

I converted a few years ago. I really tried to live well for a while but I'd been burdened by the scandals the whole time and eventually they just destroyed my willingness to resist temptations to sin. I think my faith is slowly receding away, because I don't care anymore. It's nice when you read more about stuff like this. I like your rants though.

Alright, captcha, this is the eight one I type in, I know some of them were right so stop.

Boniface said...

Dear friend, we are certainly in dark times, but the thickness of the darkness means only that the necessity of light is that much greater. If you lose faith, it is because you have lost hope, and if you've lost hope because you have lost love. Reconnect with our Lord's personal call to you. If the world needs light, be the light. If the Church lacks holy people, you be holy, even if you are the only one. Please hang in there. You have been given a great grace in that you recognize where your problem lies.

Anonymous said...

I converted two years ago. My wife is not Catholic and belongs to a religious tradition with very strict views on sexual morality. This sort of scandal makes it harder for me to defend the Catholic faith or for her to desire to convert.


Anonymous said...

With regard to the first comment, I just always remind myself that its not the Pope's church, or the bishops' or priests'. It is Christ's and I try to keep my focus on him and cultivate my little corner of the vineyard. Thats challenge enough. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


Just another mad Catholic said...

May I Play devils advocate here.

1) Not all of the couples Married by His Holiness were cohabiting, it was a few at most

2) of those who were I believe that in one or two cases very young children were involved, whilst cohabitation is sinful, I am unsure as to whether it would be practical for those couples to live seperately when young children were involved.

3) I am curious to know what your suggestions would be for converts such as Marcus Grodi; who whilst in the process of converting found out that where possible irregulatirites in thier marial situation? If I recall correctly his stated that he and his wife lived as brother and sister until the annulment came through and they could be married according to the cannocial forms of the Church.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

I am old enough a man to remember when Popes didn't rub their personal agenda in our faces.

Our Pope and our Cross is a VERY willful man and the farthest one could be from being humble.

Most of his schtick is humbug and anyone with a modicum amount of curiosity can find MANY examples of how he cooperates with the media in marketing himself - such as arranging for "spontaneous" stops for blessing as he drives down a highway

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Look, even Fr Ray Blake was fooled by the Francis charade

Look at the video for your own self. I see cops and cameras all prepared in advance of this spontaneity..

Boniface said...

Mad Catholic-

Well, I know not all of them were. I think it's irrelevant whether its two or ten, though.

Second, regarding children, that's always a tough call, but John Paul II says that cohabitation itself is harmful for children, so that needs to be taken into account.

Regarding your third point, you asked I am curious to know what your suggestions would be for converts such as Marcus Grodi; who whilst in the process of converting found out that where possible irregulatirites in thier marial situation? If I recall correctly his stated that he and his wife lived as brother and sister until the annulment came through and they could be married according to the cannocial forms of the Church.

There is a huge difference here, because unlike an unmarried couple merely shacking up, Marcus Grodi or whoever actually does have a putative marriage. Canon law presumes all marriages valid unless evidence proves otherwise, as do people at large. This removes the element of scandal. When a non-married couple shack up, people presume fornication is happening, and thus the scandal. People who have putative marriages are likewise assumed to be having sex, but because they have the reputation of being married, no scandal exists. It is no scandal is Mr. and Mrs. X are commonly thought to be married and having sex; it si a scandal if X and Y are not married but shacking up because fornication is presumed.

In both cases, the couples have an obligation to abstain. But in the case of a putative marriage, there is no obligation to separate physically because there is no scandal - although it might still be prudent depending on the living arrangements and the temptation to sin.

NCB said...

Dear Boniface,

Thank you for such an interesting post.

I understand your answer regarding the case where there are children.

But see this: A similar case is when your first marriage broke up, then you get a 2nd wife and only many years later both of you convert to the Faith.

You realize that you're living a sinful life and cannot receive Holy Communion, thus you want to change that, but there's a whole 2nd family which has been going well for years.

So, I've heard some good and orthodox priest recommending to such couples not to live a marital life. Adding to this, they recommend that while not having relations ever more, they should go to receive Communion to a parish where they're not known or not recognized as a 2nd marriage, so as to not cause scandal.

Would this be a good option?

Moreover, some of these priests invoke St. Joseph's and Our Lady's example. What do you think of this?

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Well, I think yuo pretty much nailed it, Boniface.


It's too bad we don't get this stuff from the pastors (bishops, popes, canon lawyers, whatever) of our church. We have to go to lay blogs to get the correct catholic position on an issue.



Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Cardinal Ratzinger - long ago - approved of the distribution of Communion to those who have been divorced and remarried and whose second marriage was long lasting so just wait until Pope Francis drops this on the trade.

O, and what previous Popes have had a gang marriage ceremony?

M.J. can't recall any such ostentatious staged-for-my-political-agenda events in any previous Papacy

Anonymous said...

"Can you imagine the scandal today if a priest refused to absolve somebody unless they stopped going to the bar on Fridays?"

Wait, is going to a bar a sin? I've never heard that before ...

Boniface said...

I didn't say it was. But for some - those struggling with drunkenness - it can be a near occasion of sin, and the traditional act of contrition has the penitent promise to avoid near occasions of sin.

Neither is dancing at the saloon a sin in and of itself, but St John Vianney withheld absolution from a man who had not stopped doing it.

a.k. said...

What about Saint Jerome living with Paula? Was their cohabitation sinful?

Boniface said...

You guys are all trying to focus on exceptions or bizarre circumstances and ignoring the fact that we are referring here to a male and female who are shacking up prior to an intended marriage.

Jerome and Paula might have lived in the same physical structure, but that's not necessarily cohabiting. Cohabiting means sharing a common life, part of which is living together, but which is not exclusively that. Jerome and Paula were not sharing sleeping quarters - they were leading a quasi-communal life in such a way that nobody who observed them would have mistaken their relationship for one that is sexual; no one of common sense assumed they were having sex and there was thus no scandal. Plus there were other monks and virgins around.

Cohabitation is when people live a common life together outside of marriage. It is always scandalous.

Anatole Upart said...

It is not a pattern with Bergoglio - don't follow rules on the books, for himself as a pope, or for others as Catholics. However, if you do follow rules to the letter - like Card. Burke - a demotion. Bergoglio is one of the most audacious saboteurs I had ever seen.

Assisi said...

Bergoglio is a disgrace ad-libbing his "pastoral" pogrom. This said, I don't think you can assume scandal with people living together. Today, because of the cultural cesspool we find ourselves suffering from in the wake of v-2, we would be forced to think and assume all sorts of things about anyone living with anyone. Your logic might suggest we assume the man living alone as some pervert or pariah. Worse, and this is especially difficult. a group of lispy, flamboyant priests sharing the same living quarters. Yet, if you read Malachi Martin, Michael Rose, or Randi Engel you can't help but remember Our Lady oF Lasallete's, on this the eve of her Traditional Feast, warning about the demon asmodeus taking over religious institutions and orders, and the corruption and filth sewn there among religious. SALVE REGINS, MATER MISERICORDIA, ORA PRO NOBIS! VIVO CHRISTO REY!!!

ellen said...

Very many parents have children who decide to live in sin instead of getting married at all - even though they would be free to do so. Sometimes this can go on for many years and children are born of the relationship. How should the parents treat the couple? Should they be included in extended family gatherings as if they are a legitimate family unit? Many priests say yes, to "keep the door open" and not cause the couple to feel "rejected" or "judged". They also say it is the only way for the grandparents to maintain contact with the grandchildren born of such a relationship. I know of many such situations. Sometimes the relationship fails and a new partner moves in and we now have a new "family unit" which must be accepted even if not approved.

Marko Ivančičević said...

To receive a sacrament in sin is a sacrilege. The one who witnesses that celebration(i.e. priest) is a participant of that sacrilege.

Anonymous said...

Viva Cristo Rey y Muera el Mal Gobierno!!! I feel uneasy on what is to come, at this moment I realize the importance of us Catholics, the ones who humbly seek for truth and accept it, to be united, pray and act against this church of darkness that wants to replace the True Wife of Christ.

Not That Guy said...

What do you make of this comment, which begins "Cohabitation is not an impediment to marriage. Premarital sex is, of course, sinful, and cohabitation is often a pretext for premarital sex (though many couples who are not living together are also engaged in premarital sex)."

Found here:

Boniface said...

He is right. Canonically speaking, cohabitation is not an impediment, but it signifies that the couple does not fully appreciate the gravity of what they are doing and that they are not ready for the sacrament.

Perfectior said...

I would like to thank you for your interesting work. I would like to mention that His Holiness is not the ffirst Pope to act like this. In 1804, Pius VII left Rome to be present at the crowning of Napoleon (4 December). On the 3d of December, as the Pope was speaking with the emperor about the details of the ceremony, largely modified and newly created with the consent of the Pope, the empress Joséphine revealed to the Pope that they were not canonically married. Although they were living in sin, the Pope had them being married immediately on the same day, and in private, by a cardinal, to avoid the crowning of concubines on the next day. If Pope Francis wants to do the same, publicly putting an end to sinful situations, you cannot judge him.

Boniface said...

It is one thing to want to publicly put an end to sinful situations; it is another to accommodate them.

Anonymous said...

Why was the fifteen year old boy watching sports that have women dressed in such an evil, immodest manner? What would our moral theologian St Alphonsus say? Scripture commands the Christian to FLEE the occasion of sexual sin. Holy Job feared that sin so much, he would not even gaze at a woman, let alone gaze upon them as they dance on ice in seductive clothing.