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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, July 2, 2016
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Trial marriages


I had encountered several couples who live together without benefit of sacramental marriage. Some have civil marriages however. In these cases they have families, some already grown up and even in careers.

In Church history in Negros, I encountered these instances of cohabitation that challenged the diplomacy of the missionaries. In one instance, in what is now Barangay Isio, Cauayan the Jesuit priest, Fr. Esteban Jayme was speared to death because of a woman who converted to Catholicism wanted to get out of the tribal chief's harem. Since she was the chief's favorite, Ka Albas, the chief, confronted the priest and without much ado thrust his spear on the priests who died instantly.

Cohabitation remains in Catholic Philippines even to this day. Some sport it proudly as being macho. This is a challenge that priests and many Catholic lay organizations like the Legion of Mary have worked on to get the couple married in church, for their and their children's sakes. Indeed, the parents' life is a model for their children.

In fact, we are faced with the same social dilemma today as to who is the new First Lady of the Philippines.

Last June 16, John Henry Westen wrote in “Life Site News” citing sources from the Vatican about Pope Francis talking about marriages that can be considered merely “on trial”.

According to Westen, the Pope's remarks on cohabitation came in response to a question on the crisis in marriage today. The Pope began by speaking of living in a “culture of the provisional” recalling a story of a boy who wanted to be a priest, “but only for ten years.”

“It's provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null,” he said. “Because they say `yes, for the rest of my life!' but they don't know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture, they say it, they have good will, but they don't know.”

In dealing with this papal remark, Westen quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2391) regarding cohabitation. It says:

“Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, "the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim." Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate "trial marriages." It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.”


The same article quoted Pope St. John Paul II's   Familiaris Consortio  where the Holy Father spelled out the harm of cohabitation. Citing the various factors leading to situations of cohabitation, he said that the situation,

“…presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness).”


Westen said Pope Francis also spoke of couples preferring to cohabitate, and told priests not to tell them to marry, but to accompany them instead.  “They prefer to cohabitate, and this is a challenge, a task. Not to ask ‘why don't you marry?' No,to accompany, to wait, and to help them to mature, help fidelity to mature.”

Indeed our priests have this dilemma when confronted with this situation of couples known to them to be cohabiting. The advice of the Pope is one of understanding and compassion, to wait until the couple breaks off their relationship or finally gets married.

There are couples who finally get married in church. One couple I know got married on the 50 th year of their cohabitation. In a way, it is never too late.

The Pope truly understands that there are people whose marriage is not real because they have “separation” in mind. This is common in countries where divorce is legal. “Till death do us part” is only a formula not a commitment.*

How true is your marriage?*



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