SANTA FE, New Mexico, Thu Apr 7, 2011 ( – The Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe has issued a pastoral letter, read in all parishes of the archdiocese on April 3, that explains the Catholic Church’s position on reception of the sacraments to those living in cohabitation.

“We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation,” the pastoral letter by Archbishop Michael Sheehan begins. “The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.”

The Gospel teaches that, when it comes to sexual union, “there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony,” the archbishop states. “There is no ‘third way’ possible for a Christian. The Bible and the Church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and opposes same sex unions.”

In the short and concise pastoral letter, Archbishop Sheehan explains the objection of the Church to the “three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel teaching on marriage” receiving Communion.

These three groups are those who cohabit; those who have a civil union with no sacramental marriage; and those who have a civil union who were married before.

“These people are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion. They are in great spiritual danger. At the best – and this is, sadly, often the case – they are ignorant of God’s plan for man and woman. At the worst, they are contemptuous of God’s commandments and His sacraments.”

The solutions available to these people are straightforward, according to the archbishop.

“Of these three groups, the first two have no real excuse. They should marry in the Church or separate.”

“The third group, those who were married before and married again outside the Church, can seek a marriage annulment and have their marriage blest in the Church. Please remember that divorce still is no reason to refrain from Holy Communion as long as they have not entered into another marriage or sinful relationship. Many Catholics are confused on this point.”

Archbishop Sheehan also states that people in these three situations may not be commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, nor be admitted to the role of sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation.

“It is critical for the sponsor to be a practicing Catholic – and can anyone be seriously called a practicing Catholic who is not able to receive the sacraments because they are living in sin?” the archbishop posits.

“Many of these sins are committed out of ignorance,” Archbishop Sheehan observes, adding, “I ask that our pastors preach on the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments of God, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage.”

“I urge especially young people to not cohabitate which is sinful, but to marry in the Church and prepare well for it,” the archbishop concludes.

The full text of Archbishop Sheehan’s pastoral letter, titled, “Pastoral Care of Couples Who are Cohabitating” is available here.