The Archdiocese of Omaha has severed ties with Creighton University's Center for Marriage and Family after two university researchers said the Catholic Church should allow engaged couples to live together and have sex before marriage.
The two researchers, Michael Lawler and Gail Risch, made their position known in the June issue of U.S. Catholic magazine.
Lawler is the director of the Creighton Center for Marriage and Family and professor emeritus of Catholic theology at Creighton. Risch is an instructor of ethics.
In the article, Lawler and Risch proposed a “modern-day betrothal” situation which they claim reflects Catholic tradition. They noted that in the 13th and 14th centuries couples were often first betrothed — a mutual consent to spend the rest of their lives together — before they were actually married.
"The first sexual intercourse between the spouses usually followed the betrothal — a fact of the Catholic tradition that has been obscured by the now-taken-for-granted sequence of wedding, marriage, sexual intercourse," Lawler and Risch wrote.
"Such a process would meet the legitimate Catholic and social requirement that the sex act must take place only within a stable relationship," they wrote.
Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha responded to the proposal by vehemently opposing it. He denounced the article as contrary to Catholic doctrine and said neither Lawler nor Risch is a reliable theologian.
The archbishop asserted that the establishment of this sort of relationship would not respect marriage or the family. The issue is crystal clear, he said: "Couples who live together without marriage do in fact live in sin objectively."
The new position of the center led the archbishop to sever ties with the institute. "Because the position of the authors is contrary to church teaching about the intrinsic evil of fornication, I have disassociated the Omaha Archdiocese from the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University," Archbishop Curtiss wrote.
The separation of the Omaha Archdiocese and the Center for Marriage and Family is a particularly sharp one because the archdiocese is considered a national leader in premarital counseling. FOCCUS, a marriage preparation inventory developed by the archdiocese's Family Life Office, is widely used by Catholics and Protestants.