Here's the part that caught my eye, and it could be a matter of translation, but he seems to be saying something about cohabitation and civil marriages that I can't grasp. According to the article, he first says:
"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."If they weren't confused about the Sacrament of Marriage before that sentence, they could be forgiven for being confused now. I know I am. Is he saying that it doesn't matter if they are married as long as we foster fidelity? I'll assume he means that we need to help them to mature, and their fidelity to mature, meaning that it finally turns into marriage of a Sacramental nature.
He then goes on:
He said that in Argentina's northeast countryside, couples have a child and live together. They have a civil wedding when the child goes to school, and when they become grandparents they "get married religiously."OK, this is paraphrasing what Pope Francis says. Note the only quotes are at the end. But again, it is a strong reference steeped heavily in his own cultural context. It doesn't really apply to the US, or from what I know, most European Catholic countries, though I could be wrong about the latter. But this section is important, because it sets up the most confusing part of the article:
"It's a superstition, because marriage frightens the husband. It's a superstition we have to overcome," the Pope said. "I've seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitation, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity, but there are local superstitions, etc."
OK. First, note this is now a quote. Translated to be sure, but quote nonetheless. I have no clue what to do with the part about the it being a superstition because of the husband's fear, so we'll move on to the second part. There are different ways to read this, if you get right down to it. And in some ways, that is the biggest problem with Pope Francis. While sometimes he leaves no room for debate, at other times we're left trying to scramble for an authoritative interpretation of what he is talking about.
In this, he almost seems to be saying that people who are cohabiting outside of marriage, but who have a strong bond of 'fidelity', are for all intents and purposes married sacramentally due to their strong fidelity. Since that just seems wrong, we'll have to think of another way to read it.
Another way is that he is talking about these older grandparents who, by now, have become married 'religiously.' Theirs is a real marriage because of their fidelity. The problem here is that he says 'I'm sure that this is a real marriage.' The only thing I can think of is that he is contrasting this 'real marriage' to the bulk of marriages today that he has declared invalid. For these folks, who started out living together, jumped through a secularized civil ceremony, and only later in life got married, a true religious marriage is the result. As opposed to the bulk of the rest of us who, I guess, waited, got married in Church, and for some reason are part of a large group of invalid marriages.
The second is better, because it doesn't sound like Pope Francis is tossing out Catholic teaching and saying marriage doesn't matter, just the feelings and emotional bonding. The second suggests Pope Francis is saying that folks who go through life outside of the classic preference for waiting until marriage to consummate the relationship might end up in a better, more sacramental marriage than the folks who followed the numbers. I guess.
Those are the only two ways I can read this. Perhaps there's another. But somehow it seems as though he is saying that the traditional understanding of wait until marriage, get married, have sex, have kids, stay married doesn't have to be the only way. Either that or he's saying you don't even have to be married. I'll defer to the first option. And yet, I'm not sure that is much better. It seems, once again, a concession to the modern, post-Christian progressive culture. Technically the Sacrament of Marriage is the goal, but it turns out the traditional way to get there is now up for grabs, one way or another. If there are other interpretations, I'm all ears.