Cohabitation’s curse

Recently, an OSV reader called me, not to complain about something that we had published, but to state her great indignation that apparently Britain’s Prince William and his fiancée, Kate Middleton, have been intimate already, and for a time now, since they are living together and have lived together in the past. 

She thought that this was an outrage, because of the prince’s status as a superstar in many places in the world, but also because that if one day he becomes King William V, he will be head of the Church of England. 

“Doesn’t the Church of England have any rules?” she asked. I had to put my best ecumenical ingenuity to work to answer this one without being sarcastic and harsh. The Church of England, sadly, has abandoned many of its once cherished teachings regarding morality, either by precisely negating what was taught in the past as Christian tradition, or by compromising and in the end holding nothing. 

The call raises a point involving many more people than the heir to the British throne. It involves more than the Church of England. 

Throughout Western society, so traditionally and historically Christian, cohabitation is rampant. It is a sign of how far respect for religion and religious values has slipped in our own country that sexual intimacy before, or outside, marriage is commonplace. 

We Catholics cannot cast many stones. Every priest knows that a high percentage of couples whom he sees to prepare for marriage already are sexually active. Of course, the general impression is that most priests would be offended by this fact, so couples avoid the issue or, if confronted, they lie. 

(Priests are on the spot in such circumstances. They can criticize, even denounce, such conduct, but premarital sex does not give a priest grounds under Church law to deny Catholic marriage to a couple.) 

It is a greater problem than how to manage marriage plans for a couple already living together. It is the cultural acceptance of the practice, Catholics being guilty of this acceptance as often as not. Catholics live together without marriage. Catholic parents tolerate this among their children. 

Years ago, TV reporter Barbara Walters interviewed legendary singer-actor Bing Crosby, who was about as devout an Irish-Catholic as they come. 

She asked him what he would do if one of his adult children, some of whom were well-known to have had troubled relationships, had divorced and were in relationships with people not their spouses, came home for Christmas? Would Crosby allow them to bring the “significant other”? Would he allow them to occupy the same room if they stayed overnight? 

Quite calmly, Crosby simply said, “No.” Aghast, considering the way things are now in America, Walters asked why? 

Crosby said that, as a Catholic, he believed what the Church taught about marriage and the dignity of sex. If he allowed such a situation under his roof, he was failing, as a father, to teach his children what was right and for their own good. 

God bless him. However, Walters’ reaction shows how far things have gone in our society. 

This is one point from this story. Cohabitation, simply speaking from sociology and psychology, is problematic. No one does anyone a service by simply condoning this particular behavior. (Remember the story in the Bible of the father who gives a child a snake when asked for a fish?) Warn youth, and indeed others, of the sin involved, but also of the other problems so often associated with cohabitation. 

Second, the Church has the truth about how we are to live. It is vastly more reliable than social conventions or how individually we feel. 

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.