Should Church marry unrepentant cohabiters?

I heard that the Church encourages couples to go to Confession before they get married. And for couples who live together, they encourage them to live apart for a time.

But what if a Catholic couple–like so many–don’t have a problem with cohabitation, and they refuse to live apart before the marriage, and therefore also refuse to confess it. Ought the Church marry such a couple?

If the Church marries such a couple, they would receive the sacrament in mortal sin.

And if the Church won’t, then…well, I guess their options are:

*]Leave the Church
*]Civilly marry only
*]Find a Protestant pastor who would marry them

Interesting question and I’m torn on my thinking about it.

But I do think that EVERY priest should make confession a regular part of marriage prep, even making time before or after the rehearsal so the couple can enter the sacrament free of sin.

I wonder how common that is? I would think that if a couple wants to get married in the Church and have a sacramental marriage, they would realize that cohabitating is a sin that needs to be stopped, and confessed.

I’m sure there are lots of Catholic couples who live in sin, but they most likely do not care about having a sacramental marriage.

But to answer your question - No, I don’t think the priest should marry them. Priests can, and do, refuse some requests for marriage.

I’m missing something I think. A couple is cohabiting but decides it better to get married, marriage is a sacrament so they would have to confess prior to the wedding therefore their wedding would be valid and since they would be married the cohabiting becomes legit. What am I missing?

OP here. Is Penance a requirement? I don’t believe they are forced to. So if they are not forced to and they are not repentant, BUT…all the while they are cohabiting they had plans to eventually marry, then what is a priest to do?

First of all, if there’s anyone not qualified to determine what the Church should be doing, it’s me, and it’s probably you too.

But I do wonder: is it in accordance with Church law and with Church practice for a priest to go ahead with marriage preparation, and with marriage, should a couple utterly refuse to stop fornicating?

Whatever the answer, I’m sure the Church has valid pastoral reasons for approaching things the way it does.

Forgive me, but do we really have to try to second-guess our Bishops so consistently?

If the couple is mixed, one of them not Catholic, then confession for that person is not possible.

Sometimes a couple can’t just up and get two places to live. It’s not that easy to rent a place, get two sets of dishes, cooking utensils, two beds, possibly separate cars, etc. There are practical situations which make it appear as if they are unrepentant. It just isn’t that easy as a practical matter and we don’t know what’s in their heart.

Special consideration has to be given to couples with children. A couple may repent emotionally, spiritually and intellectually but a stable household for the children is an overriding concern. A child has a God given right to a home with both a mother and father. Denying the children a mother or father is an injustice. <-- this is not my opinion but comes from the Catechism.

Not everything is black and white. Sometimes waiting it out and getting married as soon as possible is the best of many imperfect choices. Leaving the Church however, should never be an option. The Holy Father just wrote about this.


Probably a lot more common than you think.

I’ve known 4 couples in the last 10 years who were married Catholic. Two openly cohabited with no qualms despite wanting the sacramental marriage and were married without apparent complaint from their priests. The third couple maintained 2 residences to keep up appearances but it was an open secret they lived together for 2 years in her apartment before marriage (his small apartment was also right next door to hers was just for show mainly for their mothers sakes). The last couple had two completely separate residences, but clearly favored one over the other and would sleep over quite often.

All the couples were dead set on a sacramental marriage as it was important to them to be married in the church. And the end result is they’re all living together after marriage now no longer in Catholic sin.

In my situation, my Catholic spouse had to make a good Confession before we were to be married in the Church. I could not go to Confession, since at that time, I was still Protestant. The impediment to me becoming Catholic was that we were not married in the Church. We married in the church and I converted afterwards.

Prior to our marriage in the Church, we were already married in a Protestant denomination (my previous religion). We were living together not as husband and wife, according to the RCC, but legally. The pastor and marriage prep coordinator, as well as the priest that witnessed our marriage were fully aware, AFAIK.

We now have a sacramental marriage.

As for your question as to whether unrepentant cohabitors should be married in the church, I’m not really sure. As for knowing if someone is unrepentant, the only way for a priest to know that is in the confessional. The seal of confession prohbits the priest from using any of that information for any reason, AFAIK. Even then, no one knows what anyone else is sorry for or not. G-d and the penitent are the ones who know that.

I would think this scenario is EXTREMELY common. The Catholic world isn’t divided into two camps: the extremely devout and the extremely lapsed. There is an entire spectrum. I know many people who dissent from the Church on this or that teaching (such as premarital sex) but consider/considered it VERY important to be married in the Church. I would guess (without any hard data) that this THE MOST common scenario. Sadly, it is likely a minority of Catholics adhere to all teachings of the magisterium - even among those who seek the sacraments.

You shouldn’t create impediments where they do not exist. Sacramental confession is not a perquisite for a valid marriage. If it were, I would be a fornicator. I went to confession before our wedding, of my own volition, but it was never outlined as a requirement in marriage prep. My wife certainly did not go to confession - nor could she have as a Protestant.

How would anyone know if a couple was “unrepentant”? How would anyone know if a couple goes to confession, or what they confess, or refuse to confess, in confession? How would anyone know if a sin by someone else was “in mortal sin”?

Your options are incomplete. If a Catholic wedding is refused, why would they obligated to leave the Church at that moment? How would anyone know if people “left the Church” anyway? There is no form filled out. How, exactly, does one leave the Church?

The other option which you did not list is that the couple could continue in their present status. They might then either split up (a very likely event) or come back to the priest, now willing to take on a different approach to Christian marriage, in which the priest would feel they are now ready. That is the outcome you left out. Christ calls the Church to lead people gently towards conversion.

I am always suspicious when people throw false choices at us. I recall in 1970 people saying “better for the girl to get an abortion than to commit suicide”; or better to use a condom when having an affair, rather than an unwanted pregnancy, broken families, etc.


There are 2 ways for such a couple to lay off the sin of fornication:
*]Become married!

Why would anyone want to encourage them to persist in sin!?!? :confused:


I’m not second guessing the bishops at all. I’m just trying to find out what their own “guess” is in the first place!

Marriage is the remedy for cohabitation.

Marriage is not a prize. It is a fundamental right for those who are not prohibited by divine law or impeded by ecclesial law. It is also a natural institution, not only for Catholics and the baptized. Sacramental grace flows to the baptized who are properly disposed, just as with any other sacrament.

This is a very good post and illustrates how not everything is a one time choice between a list of possible options. This isn’t buying a car or choosing which brand dishwasher to get.

We have to give time and space for the Holy Spirit to work. God is far more patient than any of us are.


This does happen and many of them are lukewarm catholics who only attend mass at Christmas, weddings, funerals etc.

This is what an article on EWTN says about the topic:

*Marriage, just like confirmation, Eucharist, holy orders and, whenever possible, anointing of the sick, require the state of grace for their fruitful reception.

With respect to validity, however, someone who is married while in a state of mortal sin may be validly married (as they would be validly confirmed, ordained, or validly celebrate Mass). But he/she would not receive the grace proper to this sacrament and indeed commits a further grave sin of sacrilege and renders the sacrament objectively illicit.

Such a state hardly augurs well for future marital bliss. It is therefore of utmost pastoral concern that couples be prepared in such a way that they clearly understand the beauty of Catholic teaching regarding pre-nuptial chastity, sincerely repent of any sins they may have committed, and seek the sacrament of reconciliation so as to enter into marriage in the state of grace.*

Essentially, the church wouldn’t prevent it, but if unrepentant, the sacrament is received sacrilegiously.

My fiance and I live together. We’ve lived together for 15 years. I became a Catholic in 2015 at Easter. I had suggested getting married before I was baptized/confirmed but our Deacon told me that if we got married beforehand, that I would need to hold off on baptism/confirmation because I’d be living in a state of adultery (as my fiance was formerly married). So he suggested we live chastely (which we have, 100%) and pursue an annulment (which we did, and was completed in January of this year). Our new priest is also aware of our living situation and that we are chaste and he is fine with marrying us. We are going through the marriage classes at the church, and will be getting married when that is complete.

And while I’m aware that this isn’t the ideal way it should happen, I’m grateful that the Church didn’t insist we live separately as it’s not an option. I don’t make enough money to live by myself, and have no one else I could have moved in with. I am grateful that the Church was willing to work with me in a way that would bring me into living the right way ultimately.

I imagine that a couple who feels and lives this way–while they may have been baptized as Catholics-- aren’t true believers in the Catholic faith and don’t mind getting married elsewhere. In fact, they may prefer to get married by someone and in a place more aligned with their beliefs.


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