Why on earth is the bishops’ conference publicising ideas that promote cohabitation?

A bride and groom hold hands on their wedding day (CNS)

It is unclear what the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales was trying to achieve when it released the results of a survey questioning Catholics about marriage and family life.

It also unclear why it has promulgated the survey right now, just before the family synod, when the majority of responses feel like a kick in the teeth for any Catholic preparing for marriage.

I appreciate that the bishops’ conference is in a difficult position because it is under pressure to be “more transparent”. But it must also show pastoral and theological prudence regarding the sort of material it shares and promulgates.

I cannot understand why, then, it has shared suggestions such as the notion that engaged couples should cohabit in order to “explore” the vocation of marriage before they exchange vows.

To make matters worse, the bishops’ conference has published a response suggesting the near-pagan idea that this “betrothal period” should be accompanied by a liturgical celebration of sorts. To mark what exactly? Two people adopting a lifestyle which directly contravenes Church teaching? What’s to celebrate?

Before the synod meets, dioceses and parishes should think and pray about what sort of messages they are communicating to Catholics. There have been a lot of mea culpas from the hierarchy over those couples who feel hurt and pained – and even “ashamed of their faith”.

But it’s time for some balance. Spare a thought, for example, for the engaged or newly married couples who are trying to be faithful to Church teaching and who feel largely ignored and unsupported by their priests because they seem, at best, ambivalent about the Magisterium.

How are these couples supposed to feel when they live apart for their engagement, with the aim of setting an example to their future children, and then read about suggested “betrothal celebrations”? How is publicising this proposal pastorally prudent or responsible?

I’m not suggesting that the bishops support cohabitation outside of marriage or liturgical ceremonies to mark it. But these contributions from the laity bear no relevance to the Catholic faith. There is no point even entertaining them, let alone sharing them with every Catholic in the country.