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Pastoral Letter on Cohabitation

April 6th, 2011, Promulgated by Abaccio

Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan, has issued a surprisingly excellent Pastoral Letter on Cohabitation. +Sheehan firmly believes that teaching, rather than sanctions, are the best possible approach to converting dissident Catholics.  Thus, he has argued vehemently against denying Communion to pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians.  Furthermore, in 2009, he noted, “I think we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the rest of America by our strong views on abortion and the other things. We need to be building bridges, not burning them.”  While he may have a point, it certainly has not gotten across to former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who remains pro-abortion. In fact, as one of the Bernadin-style Bishops, he’s a member of an informal club that has no record of ever defending unborn human life.  Thus, I am somewhat surprised to see such an excellent pastoral letter on cohabitation.

The letter follows, emphasis and [commentary] mine.

April 3, 2011

Pastoral Care of Couples Who are Cohabitating

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation.  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.

First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching 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. 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. [If all Bishops spoke this courageously, would a large percentage of Catholics support homosexual so-called marriage? I doubt it.]

We have three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel [!!!!] teaching on marriage: those who cohabit; those who have a merely civil union with no previous 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. [I hate to be the voice of reason here, but…aren’t you “isolating {yourself} from the rest of America” by saying this?  Would that His Excellency would speak about all objectively mortally sinful behavior in such a fashion.] 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.

Of these three groups, the first two have no real excuse. They should marry in the Church or separate. Often their plea is that they “cannot afford a church wedding” i.e. the external trappings, or that “what difference does a piece of paper make?” – as if a sacramental covenant is nothing more than a piece of paper! [AMEN!] Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin.
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.

Christ our Lord loves all these people and wishes to save them – not by ignoring their sin, or calling evil good, but by repentance and helping them to change their lives in accordance with His teaching. We, as His Church, must do the same. In accord with this, I would remind you of the following:
1. People in the above three situations cannot receive the Sacraments, with the important exception of those who agree to live chastely (“as brother and sister”) until their situation is regularized. Of course, those in danger of death are presumed to be repentant.

2. These people may not be commissioned as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, [How many EMHC’s around here would be decomissioned for this reason? I know of a large number in my home parish.] not only because of scandal, but even more because one commits the sin of sacrilege by administering a Sacrament in the state of mortal sin.

3. Nor are such people to be admitted to the role of sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation, as is clearly stated on the Archdiocesan Affidavit for a Sponsor. 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?

4. When it comes to other parish ministries and organizations, I feel it best to leave these situations to the judgment of the pastor.  Prudence is needed, avoiding all occasions of scandal. We must see their involvement in the parish as an opportunity to work urgently to bring such people to repentance and the regularization of their lifestyle.

5. Many of these sins are committed out of ignorance. I ask that our pastors preach on thegravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments  of God, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage. Our catechetical programs in our parishes – children, youth, and adult – must clearly and repeatedly teach these truths. A Church wedding does not require some lavish spectacle and entertainment costing vast sums of money (Indeed, how often we have seen the most costly weddings end in divorce in but a few months or years!). While beauty and joy should surround a Christian
wedding, we must remind everyone that it is a sacrament, not a show.

6. Those who are married outside the Church because of a previous union are urged to seek an annulment through our Marriage Tribunal.  If it can be found that the first marriage lacked some essential quality for a valid marriage, the Tribunal can grant an annulment. Your pastor can help someone start a marriage case for this purpose. It is important for such couples to continue to pray and get to Mass even though they may not receive Communion, until their marriage can be blest in the Church.

Our popular American culture is often in conflict with the teachings of Jesus and His Church.  I urge especially young people to not cohabitate which is sinful, but to marry in the Church and prepare well for it. I congratulate and thank those thousands of Catholic married couples who role model the Sacrament of Marriage according to the teachings of Jesus and his Church.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Lord,
Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan
Archbishop of Santa Fe
Would that Bishop Hubbard would man up and speak so clearly to scandalously cohabitating Governor Andrew Cuomo, to whom he gladly gave Communion.

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15 Responses to “Pastoral Letter on Cohabitation”

  1. avatar Faithful says:

    I am all for building bridges, teaching rather then sanctions, presenting Catholic teaching in a “positive” light, “reaching out” “dialoge” etc.

    However, there comes a point when you have been as “pastorally sensitive” as you could have been, and as “understanding” and “loving” as possible—and the rubber has to meet the road and it is time to get tough.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    Where were the Catholic voices when Rudy Guiliani was cheating on his wife and not just co-habitating, but having a series of “affairs”? Was it because he was a Republican? Also, until he threw his cap in the presidential ring, he was very lukewarm about ending legal abortion–in fact he was pro-choice. Let’s not pick and choose who we target as the object of catholic wrath.

  3. avatar Dr. K says:

    Where were the Catholic voices when Rudy Guiliani was cheating on his wife and not just co-habitating, but having a series of “affairs”? Was it because he was a Republican? Also, until he threw his cap in the presidential ring, he was very lukewarm about ending legal abortion–in fact he was pro-choice.

    That was several years ago, and the Catholic web was still in its infancy. I’m sure it would have received more attention today.

  4. avatar Nerina says:

    Anon,

    I, for one, can tell you that I was loudly against Rudy Guiliani when he ran for president and I remain against him as a politician today. He is sorely wrong about many things. Yes, he managed NYC well in the wake of 9/11, but his moral positions leave much to be desired.

  5. avatar Nerina says:

    Regarding this pastoral letter – it is fantastic. Amen, Bishop Sheehan.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    Dr K,
    There may have been the Web in its infancy, but there was still the Catholic Press..Where were they?

  7. avatar Dr. K says:

    Don’t know, ask them.

  8. avatar Thinkling says:

    There was buzz when Rudi had his moment in the shade sun, but again the web and other publishing outlets were not as developed then. I didn’t subscribe to any of the dead tree Catholic outlets at the time, but the MSM usually had quotes from them which were condemning his behavior on no uncertain terms.

    And political party has nothing to do with it (see Bettencourt, D.J.)

  9. avatar Matt says:

    Anon,

    If you think the MSM or the various Catholic publications that are often quoted and read locally (America, US Catholic, NCReporter, etc.) and the USCCB have been biased in favor of Republicans, you’ve certainly created a revisionist history. More often than not, a false understanding of social justice has been their focus…ie, socially liberal, fiscally liberal.

  10. avatar Scott W. says:

    Where were the Catholic voices when Rudy Guiliani was cheating on his wife and not just co-habitating, but having a series of “affairs”? Was it because he was a Republican? Also, until he threw his cap in the presidential ring, he was very lukewarm about ending legal abortion–in fact he was pro-choice. Let’s not pick and choose who we target as the object of catholic wrath.

    Actually, we were here: Catholics Against Rudy (My link on the blogroll was my old blog Cordelia’s Shoes)

  11. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    I don’t think people realize that in many cases the “CHURCH” does not have to “punish” or correct these people. Their way of living will eventually bring its own set of tribulations and pains from this lifestyle.

  12. avatar Abaccio says:

    Raymond,

    Right you are! Correction is the only charitable thing to do…even excommunication, viewed properly, is a charitable act. Anything at all that can be done to bring someone out of sin and into grace ought to be done, for otherwise the consequences may be eternal! This is of paramount importance!

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    Abaccio,
    Many of us who post on this blog occasionally exercise that same option–correction can be charitable. Hopefully your eyes will be opened and you will leave the sin of pride and hypocrisy and embrace the grace of understanding and humility.

    EDIT (Abaccio) 55 comments in 11 days is hardly “occasionally.”

  14. avatar Scott W. says:

    Hopefully your eyes will be opened and you will leave the sin of pride and hypocrisy and embrace the grace of understanding and humility.

    In other words, I’ll pray for you and the horse you rode in on.

  15. avatar annonymouse says:

    Just a nit, but Santa Fe is an archdiocese, and Sheehan is an archbishop. (FIXED-Abaccio)

    May God richly bless you, Archbishop Sheehan!

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