... we'll start working to promote an acceptance of non-recipricated acquisition, oppositional truth-utterances, extra-marital conjugal affirmation, and extraordinary property neediness."
That is: stealing, lying, adultery, and coveting.
This inspired by an article by "two respected family ministry researchers" who argue that nuptial cohabitation—also known, in less politically-correct times, as shacking up, living in sin, fornication—is a good and healthy way for people to ease their way into marriage. The article, titled "A Betrothal Proposal," was published in the U.S. Catholic magazine and was authored by Michael J. Lawler and Gail S. Risch, who are researchers at the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University, Nebraska, where they
also teach theology. Creighton University is, according to its website, "a Catholic and Jesuit comprehensive university" that "is dedicated to the pursuit of truth in all its forms and is guided by the living tradition of the Catholic Church." The Center's mission page states: "The Center for Marriage and Family stands firmly in this Catholic and Jesuit tradition." Lawler and Risch have either missed the part about being guided by Church teaching and standing firmly in it, or else believe they know better than the Church; in fact, their article makes it clear which it is (quick, take a guess!).
Lawler and Risch toss around some statistics and social research, but the bottom line is quite simple: they believe the Catholic Church should allow fornication ("Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman" [CCC 2353]) because, well, everyone else is doing it:
The sharp increase in premarital cohabitation is one of the most fundamental social changes in Western countries today. Between 1960 and 2004, the number of unmarried couples living together in the United States increased tenfold from less than 500,000 to more than 5 million. Cohabitation has become, even for Catholics, more and more a conventional and socially endorsed reality.
Recent focus groups of young Catholic adults on “problematic aspects of church teaching” found that they disagreed with church teaching on premarital sex and cohabitation and do not see a fundamental difference in a loving relationship before and after a wedding. Our experience with young adults leads us to doubt the claim that they are living in sin. It would appear closer to the truth that they are growing, perhaps slowly but nonetheless surely, into grace. ...
Church teaching is sometimes slow to respond to social change and to sift out its beneficial aspects and thus sometimes can appear detached from real experience. That is what young adults tell us and what they also told various focus groups.
We invite the Catholic Church to be a leader, rather than an adversary, in acknowledging and nurturing nuptial cohabiting relationships as just and loving relationships and pathways to grace. We also invite Catholics to be ready to assist cohabiting nuptial couples to discover the presence of God in their lives and to live into that grace throughout their present cohabiting and future married lives.
This, of course, is nonsense, as both Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss, Archbishop of Omaha, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver have pointed out in public responses to the article. Archbishop Curtiss stated, in a June 5th letter:
The teaching of the Catholic Church about fornication is clear and unambiguous: it is always objectively a serious sin (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1755, #1852, #2353). Couples who live together without marriage do in fact live in sin objectively.
Because the position of the authors is contrary to Church teaching about the intrinsic evil of fornication, I have disassociated the Omaha Archdiocese from the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University.
Neither Lawler nor Risch are reliable teachers of Catholic moral theology, and certainly are not spokespeople for the Church regarding human sexuality and sacramental marriage.
The Curt Jester and Rich Leonardi have posted about the story, as have some other Catholic bloggers. But there is more to the story. The CatholicCitizens.org site has a November 8, 2005 article showing that this sly attack on Catholic moral teaching is hardly new to Lawler:
A Catholic theologian who opposes Church teaching on divorce and supports creating a betrothal ceremony for cohabitating couples just led a colloquium to assist US bishops with writing a pastoral letter on marriage.
The colloquium, which ended yesterday (10/25/05), was sponsored by the US Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family and hosted by the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University in Omaha. It featured theologians and social scientist and had as its theme, "Promoting and Sustaining Marriage as a Community of Life and Love." According to a press release, the colloquium was a "major step" toward developing "a pastoral letter on marriage" and was "intended for the current and incoming members and advisors of the Marriage and Family Committee."
The director of Creighton's Center on Marriage and Family, Michael J. Lawler, served as the colloquium's chief facilitator. Lawler is well known for his heterodox views on divorce and cohabitation. A review of Lawler's book, "Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions," in the left-of-center Catholic magazine "America", explains Lawler's take on divorce: "The governing agenda is to show how divorce and remarriage can be justified historically, canonically and theologically. Lawler argues that the sacramental character of marriage depends on personal faith. Therefore (contrary to canon law and current official teaching), sacramentality cannot attend the union of two persons, even two baptized persons, who do not intend, or who cease to experience, a mutual love that in faith makes God and Christ present." According to the review, Lawler also "proposes a formal betrothal ceremony to recognize and legitimize [cohabitation] and to provide an opportunity for marriage preparation."
Speaking of former ceremonies, how about one by the USCCB suspending Lawler's ability to teach theology at a Catholic university? I'll happily supply the balloons and cake and a copy of this book for everyone who attends.
In the meantime, let's return to my opening remark, which was fictional in nature but hardly unbelievable. There are, let's propose, people who sometimes practice non-recipricated acquisition but have the intention of someday paying for what they've stol--er, acquired. There are people who speak oppositional truth-utterances, yet have the best intention of someday, at the right time, telling the truth. There are those who seek out extra-marital conjugal affirmation, but commit such acts of spousal-challenged intimacy with the laudable goal of enriching and "spicing up" their marriages. There are some who fall into extraordinary property neediness, but with the intent of merely obtaining what they really need, not what they really want. After all, each of these actions and attitudes are more and more becoming conventional and socially endorsed realities. And I've not even broached same-gendered conjugal-emulating acts, sometimes crassly called homosexuality (or, in specific instances, sodomy). Why stop with shacking up? Let's take this openminded approach to each and every tenet of Catholic moral teaching!
Here, then, would be the goal: to affirm that Catholics can be Catholic without living in a way that is distinctively Catholic. By doing so, it becomes both easier to be Catholic and harder to tell who is Catholic, which breaks down barriers between Catholics and non-Catholics, thus helping both groups feel better about how they live while not making them change how they live. We could enlist the mentoring and life-coaching skills of folks such as John Kerry, Rudy Guiliani, Nancy Pelosi, Fr. Richard McBrien, and others, whose public struggles to be Catholic without being Catholic have been well-documented in recent years (or, in the case of Fr. McBrien, for many decades).
Plenty more could be said, but I'll wrap up with a final word from Archbishop Chaput, drawn from his June 20th column about the U.S. Catholic article:
... I believe in the intelligence and good will of the authors. I also believe that their argument is bafflingly naïve. If the Church, in her reflection on the Gospel, has always taught that sex outside marriage is morally wrong, then for the Church to now bless “nuptial cohabiters” amounts to colluding in sin. Ritualizing a sinful behavior, or calling it a nicer name, does not change its substance. The very last thing we need in a society already awash in confused sexuality is a strategy for accommodating it.
The greatest irony of the U.S. Catholic article comes in a comment by the authors that many young adults “cite confusion about Church teaching because Church leaders send mixed messages about sex, contraception, and divorce/annulment.” I very much agree. And one of the sources of that confusion might be Catholic publications, theologians and researchers who help feed it.
We need more support for marriage in society and the Church, not alternative arrangements. Cohabiting couples deserve the understanding and patience of the Catholic community, but above all they need to hear the Christian truth, persuasively offered, about the nature of marriage, the meaning of their sexuality and the importance of the family. We waste words and time when we focus on anything else.