ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The archbishop of Santa Fe in a pastoral letter admonished unmarried Catholic couples who are living together, those who are not married but are in a civil union and divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment, warning them not to receive Holy Communion.
Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan said it was up to the church and its pastors to emphasize that with regard to sexual unions, "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."
He reminded Catholics that the Bible and the Catholic Church oppose same-sex unions and teach that marriage is between one man and one woman. The church also teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful.
Catholics living in one of the three relationships he described "are objectively living in a state of mortal sin," Archbishop Sheehan said.
"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," he said.
His pastoral letter, dated April 3, was posted on the archdiocesan website, www.archdiocesesantafe.org, in an archdiocesan news section titled "Awakening Faith." He told Catholic New Service in a voicemail message that the pastoral letter was getting about 16,000 hits a day on the website.
Of the three groups he described, "the first two have no real excuse," he said. "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."
Archbishop Sheehan reminded Catholics that divorce is no reason to refrain from receiving holy Communion, as long as they have not "entered into another marriage or sinful relationship. Many Catholics are confused on that point."
He urged the pastors of his archdiocese to preach on the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, as well as the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage.
Popular American culture is often in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Sheehan said.
Catholics in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe who live in "sinful relationships" may not be commissioned as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, become sponsors for baptism or confirmation, or consider themselves to be a "practicing Catholic."
"Can anyone be seriously called a practicing Catholic who is not able to receive the sacraments because they are living in sin?" Archbishop Sheehan asked.
As far as allowing these Catholics to be involved in parish ministries and organizations, he said, it was best to leave that decision to the pastor, but urged prudence and said any occasion of scandal must be avoided.
"Many of these sins are committed out of ignorance," he said. "Often their plea is ... 'what difference does a piece of paper make?' -- as if a sacramental covenant is nothing more than a piece of paper! Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin."
He said the church's role was to make it clear to those living in sin that their "unions are not in accord with the Gospel," and to help Catholics in such situations "do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God."