Speaking to the clergy of Rome a couple of days ago, Pope Francis took a characteristically soft line on how to deal with cohabiting couples. And, characteristically, he did it in his usual adroit way.
“Always speak the truth,” he said, and then pointed out that “the truth does not exhaust itself in the dogmatic definition” but “in the love and in the fullness of God.” Priests ought to “accompany,” just as Jesus “accompanied and warmed the hearts” of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Advocates of a hard line on cohabitation will say that the pope did not deny the church’s teaching that cohabitation is wrong. But his approach is profoundly at odds with that of a hierarch like Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, who two years ago issued a letter instructing the faithful that cohabiting couples cannot receive the sacraments. And, declared Sheehan, that goes for those married only in civil ceremonies, whether previously unmarried or previously married.
“Christ our Lord loves all these people and wishes to save them – not by ignoring their sin, or calling evil good, but by repentance and helping them to change their lives in accordance with His teaching,” Sheehan wrote. “We, as His Church, must do the same.”
In Francis’ view, by contrast, “The problem cannot be reduced to whether” these couples “are allowed to take communion or not because whoever thinks of the problem in these terms doesn’t understand the real issue at hand. This is a serious problem regarding the Church’s responsibility towards families that are in this situation.” The task, he said, is to “find another way, the just way.” For him, God’s truth demands no less.
At this point, does anyone seriously doubt that this pope will eventually urge his clergy to “accompany” and “find another road for” same-sex couples, including married ones?