Archbp. Sheehan (Santa Fe), his Pastoral Letter on Cohabitation, a liberal reaction, and my interlinear rant

Fr. Z's Episcopal Backbone AwardH.E. Most Rev. Michael Sheehan Archbishop of Santa Fe, NM has issued a Pastoral Care of Couples Who are Cohabitating.

Archbp. Sheehan had this letter read in all parishes of that Archdiocese.

I think this pastoral letter could be seen as a stage in the New Evangelization.  But then, I am not a Cafeteria Catholic.

Let’s have a taste of the first part of his letter with my emphases and comments.

Archbishop SheehanPastoral 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. [No cringing, sensitive, apologetic beginning.  He gets right into it.] 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. [In other words, “repent and believe the Good News (Gospel)”.]

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. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] The Bible and the Church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and opposes same sex unions. [“Amen!”, brother!  Tell it!]

We have three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel teaching on marriage: [1] those who cohabit; [2] those who have a merely civil union with no previous marriage; [3] and those who have a civil union who were married before. [There are consequences…] 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.

Of these three groups, the first two have no real excuse. They should marry in the Church or separate. [Again, he is not cringing, he is not watering the message down with weasel words.] 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! Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin. [OOH-RAH!]

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:


There are 6 points, including not being able to receive Sacraments.  Not just Communion, but also Penance, unless you are changing your life.  They can’t be EMCH’s or sponsors for Baptism or Confirmation.

Apply this to the situation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the attacks on the canonist Ed Peter’s for pointing out the obvious!

The columnist for NCFishwrap, Heidi Slumphf, had – in the name of Fishwrap – a little tiff about Archbp. Sheehan’s pastoral letter.

Fishwrap‘s response:

Sheehan’s threats to cohabitating couples [threats!]
By Heidi Schlumpf
Created Apr 06, 2011
by Heidi Schlumpf [1] on Apr. 06, 2011


Two comments:I wonder if Sheehan will widen his rule against “sinning godparents” to include other sins? [Which means… what?  I think she is trying to be sly.  But Archbp. Sheehan has addressed things that are public not private.  Marriage, civil or in the Church, is a public, verifiable relationship. ]

[Now she displays her new and hard-won expertise, which allows her to critique the Archbishop…] And, having just finished teaching a college course on “Persuasion,[A course, perhaps, on 19th c. English novels?] I’m struck how un-persuasive this letter is. [Arguments can be legitimately attacked through the procedure they follow, or through their premises.  Archbp. Sheehan’s premises are the perennial teaching of the Church and her positive law derived from both natural law and divine positive law.  The argument is pretty straight forward: if you are doing X then you can’t do Y.  If Heidi has a problem with the Archbishop’s letter, does that mean she doesn’t accept his premises?  She doesn’t say she disagrees with anything he says. But wait… Heidi is going to be sly again.] But then I wonder if that is its purpose. [It seems…] It seems Sheehan has no real interest in persuading or teaching, but rather only punishing those who disagree with him. [HUH?  Let’s get this straight.  The Archbishop issues a clear document short enough to be read from pulpits.  It is correct in every respect.  She doesn’t say she disagrees with what he says.  She doesn’t openly dissent from its teaching. Instead, she is applying to Archbp. Sheehan what the NCR and others applied to the “Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come”, Bp. Olmsted of Phoenix over the dust-up with the formerly Catholic hospital that did abortions.  Bishops who talk clearly and straight, even when they are right (or within their rights, in the case of Bp. Olmsted) are mean.  They are mean old mean meanies.  They want to punish instead of affirm.  The way you affirm is never to mention sin and never to apply any consequences to anyone for any reason.  Be accepting, even when what the people are doing is demonstrably and objectively contrary to divine law.  And, if you are forced to talk about these things, you must always, always, cringe and wring your hands, and use soft, mollifying words, which people can more easily ignore.] Oh, and making those who already agree with him happy for “laying down the law.” I think we’ll see a lot of that in response to this letter. [I’m one of them.]

WDTPRS Kudos to Archbp. Sheehan.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. markomalley says:

    Bishop Sheehan is well deserving of the Crozier and Spine award: (I would put the pic in here, but, alas, no pics allowed in the combox)

  2. LarryD says:

    Great minds think alike – I just blogged about this 30 minutes ago!

    What the NCR-types consider “threats” and “punishments” is actually this: Archbishop Sheehan isn’t locking the cell door on the people he’s addressing – he’s offering them the key so that they can free themselves from their sinful prisons.

    I have one question Father – Archbishop Sheehan stated that these people are “objectively living in a state of mortal sin…” Not to parse words, but aren’t they technically living in a state of grave sin, which would be mortal if the 3 conditions are met? After all, Archbp Sheehan goes on to say that “At best…they are ignorant of God’s plan…” Just looking for clarification – thanks!

  3. In an area like Washington, DC, you have many young people who are relocated, and have no family in the area, or few friends to move in with for months at a time (which is a lot to ask in some cases). The terms of one’s lease do not always make the transition a practical one. This is not to excuse cohabitation before marriage — I do not — but a pastor who admonishes such a couple, however gently or effectively, might be faced with this response.

    I’m not suggesting that it’s easy, I’m talking about what is possible. I’d be curious as to what other priests would think, as well as those who have been in this situation themselves. (The rest of you, have at it, if cum grano salis …)

  4. Brad says:

    In the Archbishop’s first paragraph he writes “do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God”.

    Am I capable of making my life pleasing to God, or is the best I can hope for to keep my life and self simply non-offensive, which I comprehend as a neutrality, and not going beyond neutrality into pleasing territory. I’m thinking about my comment on the “he crowns his merits in us” thread. Christ is pleasing to the Father, but I can’t be, even when I do no sin.


  5. Paul says:

    God give us more shepherds with the courage to speak like this!

  6. Joseph says:

    What a blessing to be able to reside in a diocese led by a shepherd like that. May our Lord repay him for his ulimate charity.

  7. Denise says:

    Since you mentioned the DC area, I thought I would mention Fr. DeCelles of St. Raymond of Penafort parish in Springfield. One of the first things he did when he came to St. Raymonds was to say that cohabiting couples could not be married at St. Raymond’s unless they lived apart for three months. When he made that announcement he also asked parishioners to consider whether they could provide housing for one member of a cohabiting couple so that complying with this policy would not be such a hardship. The following is printed in the bulletin each week:

    Couples wishing to marry must contact a parish priest at least six months prior to the desired wedding date. Couples who are living together will be expected to live separately at least during the three months prior to the wedding.

  8. Nathan says:

    What’s great about Archbishop Sheehan’s letter is that now the pastors in his archdiocese have the Ordinary “covering their backs” when counseling young couples, or in the more difficult case, their parents. I’m sure there comes times for pastors when, after hearing the rant on “Father Skippy at Holy Giant Puppets doesn’t mind if we/they live together first” when it’s useful just to say, “I’m so sorry, you’ll have to take that up with the Archbishop.”

    In Christ,

  9. Brad Am I capable of making my life pleasing to God, or is the best I can hope for to keep my life and self simply non-offensive […] Christ is pleasing to the Father, but I can’t be, even when I do no sin.

    You are pleasing to the Father in Christ. God delights in us. We can please God, God can pleasure in us.

    Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Rom 8:8-9)

    The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord… (1 Cor 7:32)

    So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Cor 5:9)

    Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (Col 3:20)

    We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Th 2:4)

    Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. (1 Th 4:1)

    By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him. (Heb 11:5-6)

    Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 Jn 3:21-22)

  10. MichaelJ says:

    I am sure that a Priest can explain better than I, but I would say that implicit in the Archbishop’s admonition to “do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God” is the requirement that we accept the Graces He so willingly offers us – in order to become pleasing to Him. I am pleased when my sons buy me a birthday present, for example, despite that they would have been unable to purchase anything had I not given them the money.
    We must repent and believe in the Good News, and Father Z puts it. I do not think that, through our own efforts alone, we are even able to achieve “non-offensive neutrality” much less becoming pleasing to God.

  11. mibethda says:

    Excellent pastoral letter from the Archbishop – clear and to the point with no equivocation. It is interesting to note the apparent change in the NCR’s opinion of the Archbishop from the past year or so when they made a great deal of his remarks critical of the other bishops who had criticized the actions of Notre Dame in bestowing an honorary degree on President Obama.

  12. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “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.”

    I wish he had added something to this, since in the pews (and in society) “annulments” are widely seen as a fancy term for “Catholic divorce.”

  13. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    Perhaps someone could correct me, but it doesn’t seem inherently wrong to share withbsomeone someone. I realize this letter is directed at those who do more than that, but imagine this case:

    A male and female, perhaps even a couple who share a house, but stay in separate rooms. They share a house to save money for rent while going to school perhaps.

    Are these two living in sin? I realize it could be grounds for scandal, but I am unsure how to judge

  14. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    Perhaps someone could correct me, but it doesn’t seem inherently wrong to share with someone. I realize this letter is directed at those who do more than that, but imagine this case:

    A male and female, perhaps even a couple who share a house, but stay in separate rooms. They share a house to save money for rent while going to school perhaps.

    Are these two living in sin? I realize it could be grounds for scandal, but I am unsure how to judge

  15. I think that forcing couples to separate before their wedding is often impractical (as one reader pointed out), and probably against Church law – cohabitation is not an impediment. You could refuse to marry them with a Mass, or only agree to marry them “without pomp,” as the Vatican sometimes puts it – but probably can’t refuse to marry them, unless you truly believe they are incapable of exchanging proper consent. It is also against the long practice of the Church (please remember that the last 2000 years was not the 1950’s or Victorian middle-class England, cohabitation has often been fairly common, and in some eras maybe more common than today). Traditionally, you married cohabitating couples as quickly as possible.

    Although I agree with the spirit of the letter, I wish he had covered the annulment situation a bit better. The Church considers those previous marriages to be valid until proven otherwise – it is in no ways a given. Sometimes, the attitude is “hey, if you had a a previous marriage, all you need to do is get an annulment,” which shouldn’t be easy to get.

    And although it may not have been under the scope of the letter, I do hope the priests of the diocese have been updated on all the ins and outs of couples approaching them who want to live according to the Church teachings, but find it difficult to separate (for children, or even their emotional dependence on each other). It is possible to live together, under the guidance of a wise confessor, as “brother and sister” – which leads to its own difficulties and struggles. Again, probably not the best topic for such a letter, but it might lead couples in such situations to approach their priests with questions.

  16. Centristian says:

    Naturally, as a practicing and believing Catholic I agree with the archbishop’s admonitions. I applaud him, furthermore, for having the courage to put himself out there, like this, knowing that he would be walking right into the Left’s line of fire. Good. It’s what our bishops should have been doing and saying all along.

    But it isn’t what they’ve been doing and saying all along.

    Without taking anything away from Archbishop Sheehan’s insights and courage, I would like to make a humble suggestion that when bishops do admonish the “ignorance” of modern day Catholics, they not do so from a distance, as if they had no hand in it. Bishops should issue such admonitions, but when doing so they ought to humbly acknowledge at the same time that they, themselves, are largely to blame for that ignorance of Catholic teaching and Christian morality that plagues the modern Church.

    It would be one thing if all bishops had been, over the span of the past 40 years, as orthodox and zealous as they had ever been. But we all know that that is far from the case. Our bishops have often been poor leaders who have taught bad things and who have set bad examples to the faithful and to their clergy.

    So, bishops, admonish the faithful for being ignorant of the faith and for not living their lives according to it. Fine. You should. When you do, however, remember that your leadership has been quite lacking in the midst of the current moral decline, and take your share of responsibility for the current state of affairs.

    Your messages will go over better if you acknowledge that you, as the parents, are responsible for the poor upbringing of the children whose behaviour you now deplore.

  17. Fr Martin Fox says:

    My comment to Heidi at the National (anti)Catholic Reporter was, fine, with your course in persuasion, how would you write it?

    As I read it, I thought of ways I might have made the same points differently.

    And I can think of many more things to say: more about what a decree of nullity is and why the Church goes down that road. I would say more about why premarital sex is wrong and cohabitation is wrong as well (it’s both a moral and a practical problem); and a few more tweaks.

    But I agree with what he said.

  18. JonM says:

    This is good, it being a step in the right direction.

    Still, there is more to this issue that has to be approached for this to be taken seriously beyond those who read St. Augustine’s writings instead of going to Las Vegas for Spring Break.

    A large motivation for cohabitation is economic concerns. It is incredibly difficult for all people, especially younger workers, to get established. Since we are not family oriented in America, young people are pressured to leave home so Mom and (step) Dad can pursue their own interests.

    Anyone rooted in sanity will realize that if a young man and young woman live together and are dating, this will lead to illicit relations. But to many, so what?

    The answer lies not in round about articles, but rather it is found in pithy statements: If you are having illicit relations, you cannot have communion and are in mortal sin. That means hell, permanent separation from God, the Saints, and the world to come.

    When we over complicate things (e.g., three conditions for a mortal sin, God might choose to save a non-Catholic out of mercy, use ‘nice’ language), the results we have gotten will continue.

    Yes, I do know about honey and vinegar, but we are dealing with a most modern society that doesn’t believe there is any essential difference between anything. So I say blast away.

  19. JonM says:

    CharleyCollins makes a critical point – throwing up more roadblocks to marriage is bureaucratic and destructive.

    We live in a fallen world and the Church has traditionally responded in natural, intelligent manners to support the Faith. It serves no good purpose to tell a couple that they have to attend marriage ‘classes’ and wait 6-12 months to marry.

    Also, the annulment mills need to be flooded and left to murky depths.

  20. Tantum Ergo says:

    Would only that the good archbishop donate some spinal stem cells to the spiritually stoopshouldered!

  21. benedetta says:

    Interesting the anecdote Denise provides. Nice to have parishioners support couples in that way. Also think the point about the fact of the expense of weddings should be considered — couldn’t Catholic entrepreneurs step up in myriad ways to provide what is needed for a fitting, dignified, beautiful wedding without requiring couples to spend a fortune? I should think the mark up on so much that is sold by the wedding industry is very high. It’s an area of justice that should be addressed, the problem that people are not availing themselves of the sacrament because the secular consumerist culture profits so heavily. Perhaps pastors with the help of those in the parish could compile contacts and vendors from the local community who are willing to forego gauging or who have the time, creativity and ability to produce beautiful accoutrements for a wedding for a much more reasonable price.

  22. pberginjr says:

    Father Skippy at Holy Giant Puppets

    That’s great can I use it?

  23. Gail F says:

    I agree with JonM’s last point. It’s GREAT that a bishop is saying this, but to turn around and say that a couple that’s cohabiting has to go through months of marriage prep classes is ridiculous. If people want to “make things right” they should be able to do so QUICKLY, especially as cohabiting is not an impediment to marriage. I’m not saying “just go ahead and marry them,” but there should be some sort of expedited preparation if we really want to do away with this problem.

    One problem is that many people who live together without getting married are not compatible and are not really committed to each other deep down — that’s why they aren’t married. Marrying them would be a bad idea. But many other people are simply doing things in the wrong order because our society doesn’t support a “right order” anymore. They are the ones we need to help. And people have GOT to be helped to get over this “I need to have a giant wedding” thing. Just get married already. Getting married is cheap. Get married at mass (I have seen this) and go out to brunch afterward. Have a small ceremony and have a potluck party. Just get married. The giant wedding is not the point!

  24. Father Skippy at Holy Giant Puppets

    I wonder if that shouldn’t be something like Just-Call-Me Skippy at Giant Puppets Pastoral Community.

  25. Gail F: It’s GREAT that a bishop is saying this, but to turn around and say that a couple that’s cohabiting has to go through months of marriage prep classes is ridiculous.

    Maybe I missed it but… where in the Archbishop letter does it say people have to have months of preparation?

  26. benedetta says:

    If this columnist can find “punishment” in this Bishop’s words then I too am able to read between the lines of her reaction to state that the logical essence of her position is that all adult/consensual relationships are equal and that we should just do away with the sacrament altogether. Short of that, the “nice Bishops” (non-meanies) will simply, not encourage the sacrament, not mention it, not teach that it is worth it, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Interestingly in a diocese where a Bishop is reluctant to mention it, apparently for fear of offending the dogma of the elite that the entire institution of marriage should be forgotten, it then does come down to the question of the cash. So much for justice and making the sacraments available to all.
    There is an interesting trend in urban or poorer areas where pastors (Catholic and Protestant) encourage especially cohabiting couples with children to marry and this is often accompanied by outreach and marriage preparation and great celebration. I don’t recall seeing whether they require the couples to live apart. I agree, preparation, cut down on expenses, but particularly when the couple has had children, it is not necessary to demand that they find a new place for a time.

  27. Nathan says:

    pberginjr: Fine with me, but I have to admit I’m more impressed with Fr. Z’s nuanced title–Giant Puppets Pastoral Community. LOL!

    In Christ,

  28. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I guess I’m glad I’m forever single! I had not realized that cohabitation is not an impediment to marriage because my former pastor flatly refused to marry anyone who was cohabiting. The daughter of one of the parish founding families from way back left our parish for the one that would allow her to marry. I wonder if our more orthodox parish would have had a better effect on her, her husband and children if they had stayed.

    I think my parish still doesn’t marry those who are cohabiting but I’m not sure.

    The thing about the archbishop’s letter is that he states facts without using some of the inflammatory language one sometimes hears. People get so worked up over these very personal things it’s nice to read something that is more calm.

  29. benedetta says:

    Speaking of Holy Giant Puppets faith community, did anyone else notice that all of the Giant Puppet Heads with Paddle Hands had long hairstyles but no facial hair? I think those concelebrants seem intended to serve as Giant Vested Puppet Concelebrant Womyn-Preests. You see in the Processional the dancing sprite purposefully beckons that they are take up their place at the altar. Vested, Giant Puppet Preest then processes in and then during the consecration, such as it was, they all take up their stations arrayed behind the Sacramental Minister. Then they just hope they can breathe through the papier mache and that the Giant Head doesn’t come crashing off. Which would spoil everything. Can’t see how anyone could complain about a cappa magna when you have the situation of having to keep your Giant Puppet Head aloft and your paddle hands securely attached. Seems unwieldy.

  30. beez says:


    I follow up what Fr. Fox said. In fact, I posted this comment:


    Since you put yourself forward as an expert on persuasion, I would be curious to see how you would rewrite this pastoral latter of Archbishop Sheehan to “persuade” people who are living in objectively grave sin to repent and live according to the Gospel.

    As near as I can tell, you’re less upset with the structure of the letter as you are with the content.

    The Church’s teachings on cohabitation, remarriage and same-sex marriage are clear and unreformable. As a good, orthodox Catholic woman with expertise in persuasion, please give us an example of how you would make this case with the people.


    Let’s see if Heidi and her moderators even post my comment, let alone accepts the challenge.

  31. benedetta: Giant Vested Puppet Concelebrant Womyn-Preests

    The great irony is, if you are right, then they are portraying themselves as puppets

    That is fitting.

    What they really crave, and they crave with every claim they make that they are called, is the approval of those men in Rome.

    They long for, are begging for, the approval of men.

  32. Thomas S says:

    This affords me the opportunity to ask a question I’ve had for a while: [Well… no, not really. Otherwise, this thread could go down infinite rabbit holes.]

    Am I committing a sin by going to visit a friend at his apartment where he cohabits with his girlfriend? Or is the only option to avoid such a thing even at the risk of losing contact with him? [Meet with him elsewhere.]

  33. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Get married quick and young, but just go into it realizing it’s for life, with no expectation of an easy “get out of marriage free” card if “irreconcilable differences” later develop. That was the common assumption in the old Catholic culture. Now everybody goes through months of classes and training, and tens of thousands get annulments annually (with thousands more not even bothering). We certainly live in confusing times.

  34. Cecilia says:

    Thank you for this post. Now if I can just get my sister to take the time to heal from a broken marriage instead of living with another guy. I can never understand why she and so many others see this as a healthy relationship. She knows the teaching, my parents taught us well but she rather turn the other way and live in a mortal sin. I think also the problem is that they don’t believe in mortal sin or Hell. I pray for her and all living in this trouble way of life. Maybe I should just show her this short clip :

    Thank you and Many Blessings Father,

  35. MichaelJ says:

    When I read this, I took “cohabitating” to mean “Living together as man and wife without being Married”, but then the what-about birds started chirping.

    Why not presume that this is what the Archbishop meant when he used the term? Given this understanding can anyone still be dismayed that the Church would expect the faithful to stop sinning before paraking of a Sacrament? Cohabitating – living together as man and wife, etc. – is a sin and Marriage is a Sacrament. What’s the problem?

  36. Me says:

    I applaud the bishops letter but I think that he should have been more careful with the first half of the following sentence: “These people are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”

  37. Charliebird says:

    Praise God! The Church IS still on the earth!! (not that I had doubted, just being excited!)
    It is so very encouraging and inspiring to finally hear a Bishop of the Holy Church strongly call sin “sin”!!
    Finally! Amen to the New Evangelization!

  38. Jason Keener says:


    Even if an unmarried man and woman are living together in a state of chastity, it would still be immoral for them to do so because of the scandal such a situation inevitably causes. Outsiders looking at the relationship will probably presume that the two are intimate with each other, which could lead outsiders into sin by making them think that such a situation is not that bad, or that the Church now tolerates such practices, etc. In short, we cannot engage in the sin of scandal for the goods of saving money, sharing the rent, etc.

    Also, an unmarried man and woman who live together only as friends are deliberately putting themselves into a near occasion of sin, even if they have not yet sinned or do not plan on doing so. God probably does not look too favorably on those who would deliberately put themselves into a situation that could easily lead into sin when alternative ways of acting are available.

    In any event, kudos to Archbishop Sheehan!

  39. Dave N. says:

    If the church is to have any credibility at all on the same-sex marriage issue, all bishops should be issuing letters like this one.

  40. raitchi2 says:

    I agree whole heartedly with the bishops statement. Although I’d like to see him say “cohabitation while having sex”, since that is the real issue. I’m just curious why out of all the issues in the world he picked this one.

  41. Random Friar says:

    “I took a course in college” is the rhetorical equivalent of “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.” (It’s a series of commercials, for those of you blissfully deprived of the tube).

    I’m glad the bishop addressed this, because when one of us priests addresses this, all it means is that they go around parish shopping for a parish that makes the least demands, and costs the least.

    I do wish more people would realize the beauty and witness of the Sacrament. Unfortunately, “Father” and the Mass is often no more than liturgical parsley on the couple’s day, and those who are not church regulars almost always haggle over the fee (say $500), pleading poverty… and then show up in a stretch limo. That said, I make darn tootin’ sure that the couple knows what they’re getting into. I tell them, right off the bat at marriage prep, “My goal is to make your marriage annulment-proof. By the end, you will know full well what you are doing means.”

  42. Supertradmum says:

    This is a great and important letter. Many couples who cohabitate get married in the Church without going to Confession beforehand, after years of cohabitation, because no one has told them this state is serious sin. They receive no graces in the sacrament, as they are in mortal sin.That is one reason why this letter is so important. Perhaps, many of our divorces can be traced to this lack of grace going into marriage.

    Kudos to Archbp. Sheehan. May his example be followed.

  43. Igne says:

    We can perceive objective grave matter easily, objective mortal sin is more difficult. No?

  44. benedetta says:

    Agree, Fr. Z, a giant puppet display is a desperate move. Giant puppets are generally used in Marxist-informed political protest, as theatricality and spectacle. So apparently the Holy Mass is then reduced in that view to an instrument of theatre and protest rally, stripped of its authentic meaning. As usual, it’s all about the image of worldly power, not the essence of the sacrament and its role in salvation. Is it not true that the vocations of the priesthood and of motherhood are equally despised by the underpinnings of the culture of death. Wonder if prolifers utilized giant grim reaper political puppets outside of abortuaries how that one would go over. Or the Chicago prolife mob using giant puppets of infants what the msm and the tire slashing contingent would do…(“outrage!”)…Yet this group gets to mock the priesthood by utilizing giant political puppets, and, it’s all permitted and tolerated. I guess it’s not all about the “punishments” and threats from the meanies after all is it…Wonder which the vast majority of women would consider truly demeaning, to dress up as a priest in a giant puppet head, or, to live out one’s authentically feminine genius…

  45. Norah says:

    “We have to live together because we can’t afford to live in two separate dwellings, we can’t afford to get married etc etc etc” What rot! The priest or deacon, the bride and groom, two witnesses and bingo you can get married. The “extrvagenza can come later when the couple have more money and renew their vows.

  46. APX says:

    Even if an unmarried man and woman are living together in a state of chastity, it would still be immoral for them to do so because of the scandal such a situation inevitably causes.

    In all fairness, pretty much anything causes scandal in today’s society. People (Mostly women) are so concerned about what everyone else is doing that they’ll presume whatever they want just to start gossip, most often to detract from whatever sins they’re committing. While I don’t support cohabitation, I think we need to accept the fact that if people want to presume something immoral is occurring, they will.

  47. MissOH says:

    Bravo to the archbishop and I did not find it anything a sense of speaking the truth in love. Relativism and its lies could cost people the joy of heaven.

    For those who made the comments about college and post college students, I am also in the DC area and it is ridiculously expensive, but that does not mean there is an excuse for cohabitation. There are numerous college students living with peers of the same sex in a group house. Even if the house has men and women, there is likely no confusing the group of college kids/interns/junior staffers with a co-habitating couple.
    Regarding the cost of weddings, it is not so much the mark-up as the wedding industrial complex and consumerism. Better to focus on the sacrament and preparation for the sacrifices and daily challenges of living the married vocation.

  48. frjim4321 says:

    “Blessed” or “blest?”

    Yes, the Tribunal part was not nuanced very carefully.

    A petition submitted is not the same as a decree issued. All appeals do not receive an affirmative, ratified decision.

    He makes no mention of the internal forum solution.

    The letter reads like a first draft.

  49. PostCatholic says:

    When the bishop says, “such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin,” he’s right on target. Co-habitating couples for the most part do not believe in the sinfulness of their lifestyle nor really have faith in the Catholic version of God, or at least do not have that faith as ardently as is required.

    So. If they don’t believe what you believe (you can tell this by their action) but show up to worship with you, it’s fair to conclude one of the following:

    1. They don’t understand what you believe, and if they did, might make changes either to their lifestyle or their religion depending on which way their new understanding moved their beliefs; (as the bishop puts it, religious ignorance).

    2. They understand what they believe and think your beliefs are flexible enough to include theirs (lack of faith and/or religious ignorance).

    3. They understand what they believe and what you believe, but connect with your worship service despite this disconnect because your beliefs on marriage are unimportant to their regard for your worship (contempt) .

    4. They don’t enter into the realm of religious beliefs too deeply yet are habituated to attending your worship services. (lack of faith).

    It’s perhaps tempting to think that the third possibility I list is the primary problem, but I rather doubt it. I think apathy and an acceptance of mainstream American values contrary to Catholic teaching are more likely culprits. It seems to me the problem you have isn’t that people are co-habitating but that people aren’t believing. So, what do you do to make them believe as you do, if this is a serious problem?

  50. Denis says:

    Is one of the rabbit holes the onomatopoietic suggestiveness of the author’s name? [I have never been a fan of picking on someone’s name.]

    Ms. Schlumpf seems to be confusing truth-telling and rhetoric. The latter, according to Plato, is akin to opsopoietike (“relish-making” or “cookery”)–the preparation of unhealthy food pleasing to the unrefined palate; it was the Greek version of junk food. Persuasion that ignores truth is exactly that: verbal junk food. One cannot please the moral palate of someone who thinks that cohabitation is OK without watering down what the Church teaches. PR message-tweaking isn’t going to help because Catholic teaching on this issue is radically counter-cultural.

  51. bookworm says:

    The question of what to do about cohabiting couples has been dealt with by other bishops in the past, and was also touched upon in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Familiaris Consortio.” The latter document specifically said that cohabiting couples should be “encouraged to regularize their (marital) situation” but didn’t elaborate on how that should be done.

    Some of you may be old enough to remember when weddings between a Catholic and a non-Catholic were not performed during Mass or even in church at all, but in the rectory, because the Church strongly disapproved of “mixed” marriages. Perhaps a similar practice could be followed for cohabiting couples who refuse to separate prior to the wedding, or for whom physical separation would be impossible or inadvisable (e.g., the couple already has one or more young children).

    Not too long ago I read a book about the rise of the modern wedding industry, whose author claimed that “not being able to afford a ‘real’ wedding” was a fairly common reason cited by cohabiting couples who were surveyed about their reasons for not marrying. I can’t recall the exact source of the information or who did the survey but I think about 20 percent, or 1 in 5, cohabitors cited wedding costs as a reason they had not yet married.

    A “no wedding in church if you’re currently cohabiting” policy might not only remove a significant source of scandal but also actually take some of the social pressure off of cohabiting couples to postpone marriage until they can afford their “dream” wedding.

    In fact, it might not hurt if the Church did more in general to publicize the fact that a valid Catholic marriage ceremony does NOT have to include a Mass and does not have to be formal, “fancy” or attended by a large crowd.

  52. frjim4321 says:

    It certainly is heartbreaking to see a marriage break up at any time, but the ones which break up two or three years after an elaborate, expensive wedding are particuarly sad. It is a rather frequent phenomenon.

  53. robtbrown says:

    Among the laity (and priests) there is a general sense of laxity in the Church about matters of faith and morals. The sexual scandals in the priesthood obviously made the situation worse, and I think most bishops and priests still don’t have a grasp on how strong the distrust of the Church by the laity has become.

    I agree with the comments that locate the cause of the problems in a lax attitude toward the Eucharist. The truth is, despite the efforts of Pius XII, the subjective concepts of Transignification and Transfinalization (cf Rahner and Schillebeeckx) have usurped the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

  54. dcs says:

    We can perceive objective grave matter easily, objective mortal sin is more difficult.

    The phrase “objective mortal sin” refers to sins that are mortal if the conditions are met. For example, murder, adultery, fornication, etc. I find it interesting that people are harping on His Grace’s use of this phrase, when they almost certainly would not if he were referring to murder or pederasty. Is co-habitation some sort of sacred cow? Maybe people are uncomfortable with the thought that many of their friends and relatives are committing mortal sin.

  55. Patikins says:

    Banjo pickin girl:

    Fr. L. did not flatly refuse to marry couples who were cohabiting; he refused them large public weddings. I don’t remember the specifics of the guidelines that he published but it was something to the effect that only a very small number (two?) of witnesses could be present.

  56. irishgirl says:

    Kudos to the Archbishop! He didn’t pull any punches! Way to go, Your Excellency!

  57. Rachel says:

    About 2 1/2 months before my husband and I were married I had to move out of my parent’s house and move all my stuff over at the apartment where my then fiance was living. The reason why is because I had to take a bus to work and where my parent’s lived, the bus didn’t come out that way. The constant trip back and forth from my parent’s house to my job was adding an extra strain on the family and tensions were running very, very high. In order to maintain peace and regain some semblance of normalcy so close to the wedding I decided that the best thing to do was to move in to the apartment that we already got together. I slept in the bedroom while my then fiance slept on the couch. We didn’t tell anyone that we were doing this. We made sure that no one would know because we didn’t want to cause scandal. There was literally no where else for me to have lived in for only 2 1/2 months. We did this to save my parents money since the gas prices sky rocketed and to reduce the stress it was causing.

    I admit that it wasn’t easy and that both of us were fully aware that it could be an occasion of sin but thanks to the fact that we prayed every night and maintained our chastity, we were able to get through those 2 1/2 months. I don’t recommend this at all but it was a unique situation. Although I agree with the bishop, I do feel that he might be generalizing. Everyone’s situation is different. My husband and I did not intend to do anything immoral. We lived like brother and sister. I don’t know if it was even something that needed to be told to the priest and I don’t know if I need to go to confession for it either. What should I do?

  58. Brooklyn says:

    I know of a very recent situation where a couple who had been living together for at least 2 years, maybe longer, were married during Lent on a Friday. Now, it was the Feast of the Annunciation, so maybe the abstinence rule didn’t apply for the reception, and I don’t know how much they decorated the church, but I really don’t understand how any priest could have agreed to this. Don’t the priests question the couples? My husband and I had to answer questions just to have our marriage convalidated. And wouldn’t a priest wonder when they both give the same address?

  59. eewanco says:

    It is certainly refreshing to see an episcopal spine, that much is for sure. So I rejoice that the truth is being told. It’s long overdue.

    At the same time I wish it had gone a bit beyond “This is wrong because we said so” and actually tried to explain why this is part of God’s plan. Most people today don’t respond to appeals to authority and have to be convinced of the truth. I’d like to see that at least attempted, and if not attempted in the letter due to space constraints, and invitation made to engage the church on the merits of what she teaches through some followup program, maybe a web site.

  60. jkm210 says:

    There is definitely a big difference between being roommates and what is implied by “cohabitation,” which is understood to mean “living and sleeping together.” Romantically-involved couples should not, in a best case scenario, live together even with the intent of not sleeping together because it can be scandalous and puts you in a near occasion of sin, which you should avoid.

    However, a situation like the one Rachel describes where the wedding was already planned, the amount of time of “living together” before marriage was short, and there was apparently a geniune need, may not have been a sinful situation if all other legitimate options had been explored. Priests do have common sense – if this had been my situation, I would have gone with my fiance to the priest before moving and made it very clear what was going on, and submitted to any requests he might have made, such as making regular confessions (which give you the grace to avoid sin), having extra premarital counseling, or whatever. But this is a very, very specialized case that does not reflect the situation of most couples living together before marriage.

  61. Rachel says:

    thank you for the comments Jkm210. I feel so guilty now. I wondered if we should have told the priest. There were other issues that were going on at the time which needed to be taken care of (a canonical issue) so I wonder if I should confess it now 2 1/2 years after ?

  62. daedalus1979 says:

    I’m extremely impressed by the example that Archbishop Sheehan is setting here in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. His letter is an excellent example of pastoral leadership, particularly on an issue that can be particularly thorny and difficult to discuss with clear moral conviction.

    That being said, it is unfortunate that not all parishes read the letter. This past weekend I attended the Extraordinary form of the mass that is approved by the Archdiocese and the priest chose not to read the letter, but instead tried to integrate the theme cohabitation as a violation of purity of heart into his lengthy (and at times rambling) homily on the ills of modernity.

  63. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Rachel, sounds like you are okay. If nobody knew about it then the possibility of scandal is removed. You can alway confess it anyway though.

    Patikins, thank you. He said in RCIA that he didn’t marry cohabiting couples but in class they always give the shortest version. I see now there’s more to it. I would have opted for the simple wedding and stay in that parish. See you at the fish fry. I will be the one with the banjo, ha ha.

    Gee, I wonder who all these people are who post here. Maybe we should arrange to meet by the potato famine plaque at a certain time!

  64. Kate says:

    Fr. Z.,

    You say the bishop goes on to state that these individuals can’t be EMHC or sponsors. What about CCD teachers? It seems to me that little, if any, care is put into choosing the instructors for religious education. If the teachers are not living moral lives, how can they truly teach our children the Faith? [That would be a good question for Archbp. Sheehan! But I think we already know the answer.]

  65. bexact says:

    I agree with Archbishop Sheehan, but I do not like his referring to cohabitation as MORTAL SIN. This is because when one comes out with one’s guns blazing (bravo, by the way) one needs to be very theologically precise. It is almost never possible to determine if the criteria is met for mortal sin.

    It is a GRAVE sin, and therefore they should not recieve the Eucharist. One could even argue that Eucharist should be denied in the case of SCANDAL, but the Archbishop is not able ot determine if these couples are living in MORTAL sin, but CAN assess the objective GRAVITY of the sin. He is right, that they should not approach the Eucharist.

    Anyone who argues that it is possible to say that these people are in MORTAL SIN, needs to take a refresher in moral theology. He should correct that, it is not permissible to change the category, thereby assuming to know the subjective disposition of an individual, for the sake of rhetoric.

  66. biberin says:

    When I was engaged, I finished school in a separate state, and then had a month to get through in the town where we would be married and live, before the actual wedding. My fiance actually planned to pop up a tent for himself in the backyard of his house, while I had the inside. We were chaste and had no intention of fornicating, and kept the situation quiet so as to avoid scandal. Well, a nice married couple at our church inquired very directly where I would be living during this month, so I told them, and they very kindly insisted that I would be sleeping in their spare bedroom. It worked out very nicely, and the wife gave me some of the motherly premarital talks that i would not have gotten otherwise.

    I know cohabitation isn’t technically an impediment, but I wonder how much free consent has been compromised when cancelling the wedding involves not only embarrassment, etc., but also having to hire a moving truck and find a new place to live?

    Kudos to this bishop for clarifying the issue for his diocese. I’m in a parish where the priest does not believe that he has the authority to require chastity of engaged couples, and this has unfortunately been interpreted by some as his approval of the situation. It makes things very awkward, to say the least (How dare you object if the priest is okay with it??)

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