OMAHA, Neb. - The Omaha Archdiocese has severed ties with a Jesuit university's family center after two researchers urged the church to allow unmarried couples to live together and have sex and children as long as they are engaged.
The Creighton University researchers' essay, published in the June issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, said that more unmarried Catholic couples are living together today, and that they doubt the claim that the couples are living in sin.
"It would appear closer to the truth that they are growing, perhaps slowly but nonetheless surely, into grace," Michael Lawler and Gail Risch wrote.
The essay prompted a letter to the editor from Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss. The June 5 letter, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press by the archdiocese, aimed to discredit the researchers as Catholic theologians and dissociated the university's Center for Marriage and Family from the archdiocese.
"The teaching of the Catholic Church about fornication is clear and unambiguous; it is always objectively a serious sin," Curtiss wrote.
Curtiss wrote separate letters to the authors and Creighton's president, Rev. John Schlegel, said the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the archdiocese.
Taphorn did not know of any collaborations that were canceled because of Curtiss' decision, but said the archdiocese had worked with the university's center on several projects in the past. One project was designed to help couples assess their religious beliefs and bond from them.
"We will no longer be cooperating with them on future projects because there's obviously a big theological difference," Taphorn said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the proposal was an appalling attempt to gain the benefits of marriage without getting married.
"It's better to help young people prepare for marriage and better to help them to make a lifelong commitment - which marriage is - than to have what sounds like some kind of quasi-marriage," Sister Mary Ann Walsh said Thursday.
Lawler and Risch wrote that between the 12th and 16th centuries, the Catholic Church allowed couples to have sex once they were betrothed. That changed under the Council of Trent, but many modern Catholic couples have reverted to living together and having sex before their weddings, the authors wrote.
"Catholics who believe that all premarital sex is wrong believe that the ritual requirement of a wedding has always been the norm in the Catholic tradition. It has not," the authors wrote.
Lawler is the director of Creighton's Center for Marriage and Family and a professor emeritus of Catholic theology. Risch is a researcher for the center. Neither they nor Schlegel were available for comment Thursday, Creighton spokeswoman Deb Daley said.
Daley said that while the Catholic Church has final say in matters of moral theology, the university allows academic freedom to discuss related issues.
"It's an interesting tension that exists," Daley said. "But perhaps a forum of a mainstream publication wasn't the way to discuss the issue."
Daley said the archdiocese's decision to sever ties with the center would not affect its funding and she did not believe its programs would be cut or reduced.
Taphorn said the archdiocese would be open to unsevering ties with the center if Lawler and Risch were replaced and if the archdiocese felt it was in agreement with the center philosophically. Daley had no response to that suggestion.
Daley said that despite the rift, the university's overall relationship with the archdiocese remains in good shape.
"We will pursue our relationship with the archdiocese, and I think there are some conversations that need to take place," Daley said.
Creighton is affiliated with the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order, and has an enrollment of about 6,700 students. Its Center for Marriage and Family was established in 1994 to research marriage and family issues.
On the Net
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org
Archdiocese of Omaha: http://www.archomaha.com/
Creighton Center for Marriage and Family http://www.creighton.edu/MarriageandFamily/
U.S. Catholic magazine: http://www.uscatholic.org