The Roman Catholic archbishop of Newark, N.J., has advised priests under his jurisdiction that people who reject church teaching -- for instance, by being in a same-sex marriage or even endorsing marriage equality -- are not to receive communion or other sacraments.
The letter from Archbishop John Myers, sent to priests this week, also prohibits churches and other Catholic institutions from serving as venues for any person or organization opposed to Catholic doctrine, Religion News Service reports. Myers's missive further states that Catholics, "especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law."
The directive comes as bishops from around the world are meeting at the Vatican to discuss family-related issues, such as whether to let divorced and remarried Catholics receive the sacraments and how the church can be more welcoming to LGBT Catholics, even given its long-standing opposition to same-sex relationships.
"The guidelines could also up the ante for the coming election season, when Catholic candidates who support abortion rights or gay rights are sometimes challenged by conservatives over whether they should receive Communion," the news service notes.
Myers's position is clearly that they should not. "Catholics must be in a marriage recognized as valid by the Church to receive Holy Communion or the other sacraments," his letter says. "Non-Catholics and any Catholic who publicly rejects Church teaching or discipline, either by public statements or by joining or supporting organizations which do so, are not to receive the Sacraments. They are asked to be honest to themselves and to the Church community" -- therefore not coming forward for communion and putting the priest in a position to refuse them.
A spokesman for Myers said recent social and political developments motivated the archbishop to send the letter. "With so much being generated in the media with regard to issues like same-sex unions and such, this memo about ensuring that Catholic teaching is adhered to in all situations -- especially with regard to the use of diocesan properties and facilities -- seemed appropriate," archdiocesan spokesman James Goodness told RNS. The Newark archdiocese covers more than 200 parishes in northern New Jersey.
There have been several instances of LGBT Catholics being denied communion at family funerals. And the question of facilities use came up recently during Pope Francis's visit to Philadelphia -- a Catholic parish would not allow a pro-LGBT group to hold events on its property, so the group moved the events to a Methodist church.
Detroit's Catholic archbishop, however, recently softened his position about who should receive communion. Archbishop Allen Vigneron once said that receiving communion while supporting marriage equality would be like committing perjury, but this summer he said the decision whether to take communion is an individual one: "Given the variety of circumstances which go into a person's particular situation, the best way forward for one person may not be best for another."