December 6, 2019

Editorial

Catholics and cohabitation

It seems that every time the Pew Research Center reports the results of its latest survey, it’s bad news because it shows how far our society is abandoning traditional morality and religious practices. Pew is the research center that has reported on the growing number of “nones” (those who profess no religious affiliation) in our society, among other things.

Its latest report, in many ways, is even more alarming. A study showed that 60 percent of Americans under the age of 45 have cohabitated; that is, men and women living together outside of marriage. Even worse, 74 percent of Catholics in the U.S. now think that cohabitation is acceptable.

How can that be?

It’s hard for us to believe that only 26 percent of Catholics surveyed accept the teachings of the Catholic Church when it comes to sexual activity. Does that mean that the 74 percent were never taught what the Church teaches, or that they have been so influenced by our secular society that they reject those teachings?

We believe that the older members of our Church would be as amazed as we are to see such statistics. Cohabitation instead of marriage is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. society. It happened during earlier generations, when it was called “shacking up,” but it wasn’t condoned. Now, according to Pew, a lot of young people are doing it.

Priests are aware of this, especially those who prepare couples for marriage in the Church. In some cases, the couples are already living together and priests have to counsel them to stop doing so, if possible, until after their wedding, or, at least, to stop having sexual relations until then.

Somewhere along the line, young people decided for themselves that there is nothing wrong with having sex before marriage. That didn’t just happen among today’s young people; it also was the case for some of their parents. That’s the only way we believe that cohabitation could be acceptable to 74 percent of Catholics. They were influenced more by our society—and by their family and friends—than by the Church.

The Church has always been countercultural, and perhaps never more so now than when it comes to sex. Unlike our present society’s culture, which sees sexuality simply as something we should enjoy, the Church teaches that “it is a gift of God by which men and women participate in his saving plan and respond to his call to grow in holiness” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 405).

The Church’s vision of sexuality, based on both natural law and revelation, sees it as involving all aspects of the human person, including the power to love and procreate, and that sexual activity should not be separated from commitments made in marriage.

It’s those commitments that differentiate marriage from cohabitation. During a wedding ceremony, the couple vow to be faithful to one another. Our society’s mores no longer require such a commitment, which is why the divorce rate is so high.

The Church also sees marriage as a covenant: “The matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1601).

How is it, then, that so many Catholics appear to reject those teachings? Perhaps because a smaller percentage of Catholic children now attend Catholic schools or receive instruction and formation in Catholic doctrine. We know that some parents are not fulfilling their duty to make sure that their children know what the Church teaches and practices, and why we have these tenets.

When was the last time you heard a homily about chastity? It’s true that homilies should primarily pertain to the biblical readings of the day, but priests and deacons are allowed to use homilies for catechesis, such as on the virtue of chastity.

Couples these days often consider cohabitation as a trial marriage, wanting to live together to see if they’re compatible before exchanging vows. But studies have shown that this doesn’t work: those who cohabit before marriage have a higher percentage of divorce than do those who do not live together before marriage.

Those who minister to young people have their work cut out for them to convince them that God’s plan for marriage is better than society’s.

—John F. Fink

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