I don’t like hypothetical questions. “What if’s…?” can go on forever.
However, this one was interesting. So I reached out to my friend Fr. Ferguson, knowing in my bones that what I would get back would be a doozy.
It’s a doozy.
From a reader…
I have a hypothetical question for you. Let’s say a couple who has been cohabiting buy a house together and co-own it, both have money in it and neither parties has the financial means to buy the other person out, and selling it isn’t possible either (terrible housing market). Neither party has the intention to marry the other and have been together for a very long time. What is the morally correct thing to do in this case? Would it be sufficient to live separately in the same house such as roommates (to my surprise, our traditional priest says co-Ed roommates are allowed if they have separate rooms. My dad didn’t seem to think so, fwiw)?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
Hypothetical situations are difficult to talk about, and almost impossible to provide clear moral guidance on, because, as a hypothetical situation, there are far too many variables that could completely alter the case.
Let’s flesh out this hypothetical situation. Hypothetically, of course. Titus and Bertha moved in together when they were stupid, hormone-stricken 19 year olds, away from home at a college out of state. Neither went to church regularly, and they knew, deep down in their hearts, that love would conquer all, and together they were going to show the world what real maturity was like. Ten years later, Bertha’s got a good job at a local bank, has stopped smoking marijuana, and is looking ahead to her future. Titus worked for a moving company for awhile before he got fired for smoking on the job, then he helped his buddy Biff in his pool cleaning business for a bit before it shut down because too much money was going into late-night nachos and the latest tennis shoes. Now, Titus collects unemployment and has several high-level characters on different World of Warcraft servers as well as a killer tattoo of Bertha’s name turning into a butterfly on his left arm. On the advice of a friend, Bertha goes one Tuesday evening to a Catholic Mass and the beauty reawakens in her heart the faith she had stopped practicing in tenth grade when Sr. Noreen yelled at her for having her skirt too short. Bertha comes home, sees Titus on the couch and thinks – I want more out of life. But his name is on the house as well, and she doesn’t want to go through the battle right now. Does she stay in the house, move into a separate room, go make a good confession, and start living her life as a practicing Catholic – more or less ignoring her domestic situation until an easy out comes along?
No. Bertha puts on her big girl pants and gives Titus and ultimatum. He has three options: a) clean up, sober up, get a job and propose to her; b) pick up his dirty clothes, move out, and sell his half of the house to her; or c) let her sell her half of the house to him, and she’ll pack up her dishes and Willow Tree figurines and move out.
Or, lets flesh it out this way:
Connie and Brian move in together after a short but passionate affair, having met on the job at the local pancake house. Deeply in love, but young and immature, they do what all their friends are doing and first rent a cheap, rundown apartment. But as they grow up, and grow together, they start moving forward with their lives. After ten years, Brian is a manager at the restaurant, and Connie is successfully selling beaded jewelry on her Etsy shop and doing medical records transcription at home. But, the flame has gone out of their relationship. They are bonded, not by romance, but by time and inertia. Both are nominally Catholic, and go occasionally to Mass, only learning recently that the tripe they had learned in CCD class back at St. Edmund’s of the Hills Parish and Country Club was balderdash, and coming to the realization that living together without the benefit of marriage is objectively sinful. They know they should move apart, but their finances are mixed, and a little tricky. Brian has a good job, but couldn’t afford to get his own place. Connie has claimed a chunk of their house as a business expense and they also have two vehicles that they jointly own. The housing market is lousy right now, and if they tried to sell and buy two separate places, they would both take an inordinate loss. It’s going to take some time to separate their finances and their lives.
They go to Fr. Dan McTradington, who counsels them that it’s okay for them to continue living under the same house – in different bedrooms – while they work toward separating. He counsels them that they need to firstly ensure that they remain chaste, and that they avoid giving scandal as much as possible. He helps them to set a reasonable timeline and asks them to regularly check in with him on the steps they’re taking.
Of course, it’s all hypothetical, so there could be another thousand variations…
Fr. Z adds:
Yes, Fr. Ferguson is that fun in person.