In an article appearing on the Truth and Charity Forum of Human Life International (HLI), Dr. Hunnell calls cohabitation one of the leading cultural assaults on the institution of marriage.
"What was once a great scandal and derided as 'shacking up' is now accepted as the norm," she writes.
This is in spite of the fact that those who cohabitate suffer higher rates of divorce, depression and domestic violence and report a poorer quality of relationship than their married counterparts. Young people casually move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend, seemingly oblivious to the damage they're doing to their future marriage and to marriage in general.
"In response to this growing trend, several years ago the pastor of my parish instituted a policy that requires those who wish to have a formal wedding with all the flourishes to live apart for at least three months prior to the wedding. Those who are cohabitating may still be married in the church, but it will be a simple ceremony. There will be no procession, no string of bridesmaids, no special music, and no Mass. They are welcome to invite friends to the ceremony, but it will be so simple that a rehearsal is unnecessary."
Whenever she relays this policy to others, she's met with cries of "How unfair!" and "That will drive young people from the Church!"
"What such responses fail to appreciate is that this policy is actually more just than turning a blind eye to cohabitation. It is true that the bride who chooses to cohabitate before marriage will be denied the dream wedding she has been visualizing for years. But what about the bride and groom who respect the dignity of marriage and wait until after the wedding to live as husband and wife? Should not the Church differentiate their wedding from those who make a mockery of marriage by cohabitation?"
No one is being denied the Sacrament of Matrimony, Hunnell writes, but a pastor has every right to insist that the meaning of the sacrament be preserved and she applauds those who have the courage to do so.
"Many a mother-of-the-bride has been mentally planning her daughter’s wedding since the day she was born. A priest risks the wrath of such a mother when he tells her that imagined wedding is not going to happen because her daughter has chosen to cohabitate."
However, clergy cannot be expected to shoulder the entire burden of defending marriage.
"It is crucial for parents to actively join the opposition to cohabitation. This is not an easy task and it takes both great faith and grace," she writes.
"How many parents are willing to look their daughter in the eye and tell her that if she eschews marriage to move in with her boyfriend, there will be no long white dress or a wedding with all the trimmings?
"Do we love our children enough and care about their eternal salvation enough to tell them in no uncertain terms that cohabitation is an affront to the true nature of marriage and we will not ignore this with support for a lavish wedding?"
It's time for all of us to take the Church's teaching on marriage seriously because we can't afford to be complacent about the dangers cohabitation poses to both individual marriages and the institution as a whole.
"The wedding industry has sold us on all the secular party accoutrements attached to contemporary marriages, but a Catholic wedding needs to reflect Church teaching about marriage," she writes.
She recommends that, in the spirit of charity, cohabitating couples be told of the many risks and consequences of their action.
Further, "Those who publicly and flagrantly depart from Church teaching should not then expect the Church to celebrate their wedding in the same fashion as those who are faithfully obedient to Church teaching," she concludes. "Failure to make such a distinction demeans marriage and is an injustice to those who wait."
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