The Problem with Pope Francis Marrying cohabitating Couples

Pope Francis married 20 couples living in sin (cohabitating outside of marriage). The news story is here. The holy Pontiff stressed that the Church should be forgiving, and should welcome sinners.

From a theological point of view, the Sacrament of Marriage is still valid, despite the sin of cohabitation. As long as neither the man or the woman has a valid Sacrament of Marriage already, and both also otherwise meet the conditions for a valid Sacrament, they can marry. In the case of the 20 couples married by the Pope, all seem to have been eligible, including one man with an annulment from a previous marriage. We are all sinners. The Sacraments are for sinners. You do not have to be a Saint to marry.

However, there are some problems with the choice of Pope Francis to marry these couples. I’ll number the issues raised by this choice.

1. One is the danger of scandal. Some lukewarm or fallen away Catholics might misunderstand and see this act as an approval for cohabitation. This would encourage cohabitation and reinforce the grave sins of those Catholics who are cohabitating.

2. For a faithful Catholic, a rule that cohabitating couples may not marry — until they repent, go to confession, and cease this grave sin — would be a strong impetus to avoid that sin in the first place. Couples today, unfortunately, consider cohabitation as a step on the path to marriage. Such a rule would discourage that view.

3. This choice by the Pope undermines those Bishops who wish to forbid cohabitating couples from marrying until they repent. The Pope could have left the decision to the individual Bishop. Now it will be difficult for Bishops to exercise such a prudent rule.

4. It leaves secular commentators room to criticize the Church for prohibiting cohabitation, and to encourage the Church to change Her teachings to permit the practice. It thereby makes the teaching of the Church seem malleable to secular society.

5. It sends a signal to the Bishops and Cardinals to liberalize the Church’s approach to marriage and family. I think the Pope chose such a public event, time shortly before the Synod on Marriage and the Family (starting Oct 5) for that purpose. Pope Francis intends to make serious changes to the Church’s approach to marriage and family by means of this Synod.

What changes are in store for the Church under Pope Francis? I believe at some point he will teach that the Church has the authority to ordain women as deacons (only). He may also teach that non-Catholic Christians and non-Christian believers and non-believers can possibly be saved without converting.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

See a list of my books and booklets here.

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One Response to The Problem with Pope Francis Marrying cohabitating Couples

  1. Dot says:

    These couples are leaving a sinful state, entering into one which is good. I was taught one needed confession before receiving holy communion, but never for any other sacrament. I have a bigger concern with a Catholic “convert” whose spouse does not convert, where it is clear the couple will continue to contracept. The convert will receive baptism, confirmation, and holy communion without hesitation. Remarried Catholics should have a problem with that. Also, cradle Catholics cause the most scandal of anyone. Why no “weeding out” process prior to confirmation. It seems to me that the word “confirmation” should mean what it says. There’s no consistency here.

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