Pope Francis gives cohabitation a nod

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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?

  • Brian

    The title of your article is fallacious. The Pope did NOT give a nod to cohabitation. On average, marriage preceded by cohabitation is 46% more likely to end in divorce. Abortion rates are ten times higher with couples cohabiting than married. Having a sexual relationship with another person “outside” of the Sacrament of Marriage is a “mortal” sin. Do you honestly think that the Holy Father would give all this a nod? Of course not.

    Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe is correct. If a Catholic individual is knowingly in “mortal” sin, he or she is obliged to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Our responsibility as Catholics is to explain this teaching “in love.” That’s what this Pope is all about. The teachings of the Church remain the same – how the Church explains it’s teachings needs innovation.

  • Doc Anthony

    Here we go again. Ambiguity and uncertainty is fast becoming the hallmark of Pope Francis’s pronouncements.

    Surely the compassion is there, but where is the clarity?

  • newsreader

    It is truly sad when even scholars fail to read, observe and analyse things at least with minimum objectivity.

    Even from your quotes, which no doubt say less than the whole text, one cannot come to the conclusion you do.

    “the truth does not exhaust itself in the dogmatic definition” but “in the love and in the fullness of God.”

    The ‘does not exhaust itself in the dogmatic definition’ does not mean that truth ignores dogmatic definition, but it is meant to inform and form love (the way it is made tangible). Therefore, your attempt to juxtapose church teaching (the community’s past experience – dogma) and (God’s) love is misguided and misleading.

    In its content Francis’ point is not in contrast to Sheehan’s. Francis starts out by saying that cohabitation is a ‘problem’, and he continues, it is such a big problem that it cannot be addressed, or fixed by withholding communion. What Francis is saying, is that we got a ‘serious’ problem here, and the Church has to take it much more seriously done it does at the moment (i.e., simply withholding communion).

    This, sir, has nothing to do with ‘giving a nod’ to cohabitation.

  • Pingback: Nods and Cohabitation | Catholic Sensibility()

  • tony

    Hi Prof,

    Remember last week you informed everyone that Pope Francis wanted politics and religion to be kept in separate spheres….hmmmm…yeah…apparently the Pope forgot to read your blog…because two days ago…he said “A good catholic meddles in politics”….
    I’ll include a link because I know what a stickler you are reading quotes in context.


  • tony

    So lets see when Jesus encountered the samaranian woman at the well was he giving a nod to her irregular (committed, loving, heartfelt, meaningful, empathetic) relationship…or did he engage her AND call her beyond her sins when JESUS pointed out that she had five husbands.

    anyone reading this blog that thinks wow those liberals really care about poor people… hmmm…nope…liberals today would perfectly happy destroying the largest private international charity in the world…so that nothing is to be forbidden other than to forbid. its all about gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, and abort, abort, abort, abort, abort, abort.

  • Bart the Fart

    Exactly why should any cohabiting couple change their ways when we pour marshmallow fluff on them, offering them a Jesus that always pats and strokes rather than kicks and pokes? Just be an atheist who goes to heaven anyway.

  • We also seek to improve upon ourselves as coaches, and it drives us to self educate.

    Like Joe Walters states, he practiced Lacrosse Wall ball every single day.
    It is a fixed time game and like football or hockey, the team with the maximum goals wins.

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