Columnists > There needs to be a discussion about the pastoral care of cohabiting relationships

16 March 2017 | by Clifford Longley

There needs to be a discussion about the pastoral care of cohabiting relationships


Years go I was chatting to a priest in the north of England when the subject of second marriages came up. His parish was full of them, he said, as it was of co-habitees. Yet neither of those types of relationship is blessed by the Catholic Church. The divorced were breaking the rules by marrying again. Those couples who had paired off together without benefit of wedlock were “living in sin”. Yet such couples would often ask to have their children admitted to the local Catholic school, to which he readily agreed. But how to make sense of it?

His solution, he said, was to regard both groups as being in de facto marriages. Not de jure, obviously – no canon lawyer had been near them. De facto was OK, but the term “irregular” was not appropriate – some of these relationships, he pointed out, worked as regular as clockwork. These marriages were a human reality, at the core of family life. The last thing he wanted to do was to break them up. He regarded them as under his pastoral care. He wanted them to thrive.

The priest – who trusted me with his secret, obviously – took from his jacket pocket a two-page typed document, dog-eared and tea-stained, whose condition he apologised for. The reason it was in such a state was because other priests from neighbouring parishes kept borrowing it. It was his own attempt at a prayer service for the private blessing of de facto marriages. His bishop didn’t know of it, and wasn’t to be told.


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