Catholics are cohabiting before marriage and going years without confession, according to new research published.
The Pastoral Research Office, an office of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, included the information in its November newsletter.
A survey conducted by the PRO last month received responses from 147 Australian parishes and showed that two-thirds of Catholics getting married in the last five years were living together before joining in matrimony.
The survey’s results included the living situation of more than 8,000 couples, and revealed that the rate of cohabitation was highest in inner regional and other non-city areas.
While cohabiting before marriage is not sufficient grounds for priests to refuse to marry a couple, the Catechism of the Catholic Church strongly discourages the practice.
It states that situations such as “concubinage, rejection of marriage as such, or inability to make long-term commitments” offend against the dignity of marriage, destroy the idea of the family, weaken the sense of fidelity, and are contrary to the moral law.
It goes on to say: “Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established.
The number of couples cohabiting before marriage in Australia has increased substantially over the past two decades.
In 1992, 56 per cent of registered marriages were preceded by a period of cohabitation. By 2011, that figure had risen to 79 per cent.
Cohabitation was illegal in the United States until 1970, and is still illegal in three states – Mississippi, Florida and Michigan.
Regarding confession, the PRO reports that according to its 2011 National Church Life survey, 54 per cent of Catholics said they had not been to confession in the past 12 months.
Just three per cent of Mass-goers said they went to confession weekly, and a further five per cent went monthly.
Of these, men aged between 15 and 34 were the most likely to go to confession once a week.
In November, Pope Francis urged Catholics worldwide to frequent the Sacrament of confession more often.
“God, in his sovereign mercy, forgives everyone, but he wanted those who belong to Christ and his Church to receive forgiveness through the community’s ministers,” the Holy Father said.
“Sometimes you hear someone claiming to confess directly to God… yes, as I said before, God is always listening, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he sends a brother to bestow his pardon, the certainty of forgiveness, in the name of the Church.”