Bishop Sheehan: Cohabitating Couples Live In ‘Mortal Sin’


Last fall the Pew Forum found that marriage among young people is declining at an unprecedented rate. What is rising in its place is “new family forms,” including cohabitation.

Studies are producing mixed results on cohabitation and its effect on a successful marriage. However, for Catholics, the statistics don’t matter as much as the morality and spiritual effects of a couple living together before marriage.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the diocese of Santa Fe has released a pastoral letter on the topic of cohabitation, emphasizing the spiritual danger cohabitation brings.

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. 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.

In his letter, Bishop Sheehan lays out how the decision to cohabitate has ramifications on one’s involvement in the life of the church, including reception and distribution of the Eucharist.

He advises couples who are living together to take swift action: “They should marry in the church or separate.”

His letter does not mince words or emotion, making it crystal clear that marriage within the church is more than a piece of paper, and its worth far outweighs the lavish costs that comes with weddings these days. Because for the Catholic, marriage in the church is the deliverance of grace, a gift far better than any KitchenAid or duvet cover one could register for.

But it is precisely in the spiritual realm of faith that there is so much confusion in society. As a mid-20s American, I can attest to the numerous peers of mine who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” This, my friends, is a spiritual message from Bishop Sheehan, not just a religious one.

Marriage is difficult, and in this day and age with all the temptations and pressures, it’s even more difficult. The spiritually crippling effects of cohabitation make marriage all the more difficult. But the spiritual strength of a sacramental marriage can give us the ability to rise above these temptations.

Of course, Bishop Sheehan notes that education within the church is needed, as so many cohabitating couples have not been taught the spiritual gravity of their decision. This letter is a start; we can hope and pray it opens the door to more instruction and the conversion of hearts.



  1. Tessa-694373 November 19, 2012 Reply

    The Roman Catholic Church Teachings is that having Sex and living with someone Before you are Married in the Roman Catholic Church is a SIN!! No gray area…this is the Roman Catholic Teaching…now other non Catholic churches may believe different but it still does not make it morally right in the eyes of God.

  2. Cindy F. May 11, 2012 Reply

    The Bible does not use the word TRINITY either, but almost all Christian churches believe in it and teach about it. Many, many things are implied very strongly in the Bible, but how could the inspired writers back then have known what our “modern age” would be like? One could say, “It doesn’t say in the Bible that I can’t look at porn on my computer, so it’s not a sin,” according to the logic of Sarah P. Yet, pornography degrades the human person in a way that is very sinful. Many young Catholics are beginning to see the logic of marriage between a man and a woman as a beautiful way to make a commitment to their “other.” How does cohabitation do that, when the door is always open. Don’t women long for security in their relationship?

  3. Sarah P. May 3, 2012 Reply

    I disagree with this article. Christians like to bag cohabitation and call it living in sin or unholy living or whatever. I’m a christian and I’ve read the whole bible and I haven’t seen one verse in it yet that says you can’t live with your boyfriend. So I think it’s another rule christians have made up to suite their own beliefs.

    • Tessa-694373 November 19, 2012 Reply

      You have not read the Bible very well…We are talking about the Roman Catholic Church which by they way are Christians too.

  4. Meg M. April 13, 2011 Reply

    The bishop is speaking to baptized Catholics, that is people who agree to live and abide by the Catholic Church teachings. And even with that, there are criteria in order for an act to be considered mortal sin. 1. Concerns a grave matter 2. Full knowledge of sin 3. Deliberate and complete consent.

    Therefore, while certain acts are objectively mortal sin, one cannot be held culpable to a sin they do not know is a sin, they have no choice in, or do not understand the grave matter of. That is why this letter is so welcomed, because it’s a step to educating the Catholic faithful. But much more beyond this letter must take place, including more education and pastoral counseling.

    Be assured of the Catholic Church’s open arms to people of other faiths and the great respect for their beliefs. The Church is a forerunner in ecumenical dialogue, believing that we can be edified by other faiths just as they can be edified by ours.

  5. Cathy-620979 April 13, 2011 Reply

    “those who have a merely civil union with no previous marriage;”

    So two Jewish people who get married are living in sin? And Hindus and Muslims – all those people who get married somewhere other than a Catholic church are sinning? I can’t buy that.

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