Cohabiting Couples Need Pastoral Care?

I was interested in this excerpt from the Synod on the Family:

With regard to cohabitation in certain regions, it was shown that this is often due to economic and social factors and not a form of refusal of the teachings of the Church. Often, moreover, these and other types of de facto unions are lived while conserving the wish for a Christian life, and therefore require suitable pastoral care.

I wish the fathers of the church had been more specific. In which regions do the economic and social factors require couples to cohabit? Is it Boston or Brazil? Indiana or India or Indonesia? What regions  exactly do the economic and social factors of demand cohabitation? Is it Germany or Ghana, Los Angeles or Latvia?

We really need to know. Is it in the developed world or the developing world?

Furthermore, how can it be that social and economic factors require a behavior that is, itself a refusal of the teachings of the church while the synod says they do this while “not refusing the teachings of the church?” Is it me or is this an appalling piece of double think?

I have very limited experience in the dynamics of the global church, but from what experience I do have it is the Catholics in the poor countries who are less likely to cohabit than the ones in the rich countries.

The cohabiting couples who come to me invariably say that they are living together for financial reasons, and yet their parents and grandparents were once in love and they were much poorer than these kids are and they would never have considered cohabitation.

Again, I don’t know about the situation globally, and the situation in the US may have some hard cases too where the couple really must live together for financial reasons, but the cases I see are usually comparatively affluent kids who live together before marriage and financial hardship doesn’t really come into the equation even though that is what they plead. So, for example, they will say that for financial reasons they live together because they have been able to buy a house…

In my own situation what if we were to take the financial matter as a real concern and welcome them with a solution instead of focussing on the problem.

So, for example, what if I said cheerfully,  “Oh, I’m sorry things are that difficult for you financially that you have to sacrifice your high moral standards. Tell you what, Mrs Jones is a lovely widow lady in our parish and she has a big house and would be more than happy for Barbie to move in with her as a boarder for a year. Would you like me to arrange an introduction?”

Silence then, “I don’t think that would work…”

“OK. Let’s find another solution. The Poor Clare nuns have some extra space in their convent. Sally could live there with them for a year free of charge while you prepare for marriage. Sound good?”

Silence.

“Not good. OK. How would it be if the parish agreed to rent an apartment for you Barbie and you can live there for a year while you prepare for marriage?”

If the reasons for cohabitation really are financial, and the couples require pastoral care, then why don’t we offer the sort of pastoral care I was suggesting and help them find a creative solution rather than condemning them. This could be a way of both offering them a warm welcome and affirming their desire to live out their Catholic faith.

I hear the excuse that with increased mobility kids leave college to live in a strange town and it is easier and cheaper for their girlfriend to go with them, but is that the only solution?

Why is it that other young Catholics so easily find other creative and positive solutions? I’ve known situations with young graduates in our town who are in the same situation. Guess what. They’ve joined the local young Catholics group and found a couple of room mates. A couple of guys moved in  and lived with the pastor in the rectory, a couple of girls shared a house with other single Catholic girls.

Is this really so difficult? I don’t think so. I can’t speak for the complexities of Catholics around the world, but in our society this financial thing is one big fat, ripe excuse.

What some Catholics mean by “welcome” and “pastoral care” is turning a blind eye on purpose and letting the matter slide in order to be nice.

What is the second half of the statement from the relatio? They live in this situation while “conserving a wish for a Christian life and are therefore deserving of suitable pastoral care.”

In my opinion, part of the pastoral care they need is to summon them to the full and abundant life of following Christ by living out the gospel in their relationships. That’s the suitable pastoral care we all need.

By all means let us give them a warm and gentle welcome, but part of that welcome is to invite them to join in the challenge, the adventure and the risk of following Jesus Christ as faithful and joyful disciples.


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