A senior Archbishop has ruled that no Catholics in marriages not recognised as valid can receive communion at Mass.
In a memo to his priests, Archbishop of Newark John Myers says that the Church can continue to "cherish and welcome" members but only "to the degree that their personal situation permits them honestly to do so". He continues: "Catholics must be in a marriage recognised as valid by the Church to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments."
In addition, he says, non-Catholics or any Catholic who rejects Church teaching, either by public statements or joining organisations which reject official doctrine, "are not to receive the Sacraments".
He appeals to all such people to be "honest" with themselves and the Church community.
In the two-page memo, he also rules that parishes and other organisations cannot host people or events that are in conflict with official teaching.
His memo means that any Catholic who has had a civil marriage after a divorce cannot receive communion. Any Catholic who uses artifical birth control must be similarly excluded. Any gay Catholic who is sexually active must likewise be banned from the Sacraments.
His memo discloses no apparent concern for the recent findings of a Pew Research survey that the number of Catholics in the United States has fallen by three million since 2007. It would have fallen much further without an influx of Hispanic Catholics due to immigration.
It comes as Pope Francis is engaged in battle with traditionalists in Rome at the three-week Synod on the Family over whether these and other rules can be relaxed or not to make the Church more inclusive. Many traditionalists and conservatives believe the Church's decline in the West is precisely because it has abandoned the universal language of the Latin Mass and strayed from the strict doctrines enforced more rigidly before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Liberals believe the opposite - that the Church has failed to adjust to the rapid social changes of the 20th and 21st centuries and is in danger of paying the price in a catastrophic loss of adherents.
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.
A spokesman for Myers said in an email on Tuesday (October 13) that the archbishop saw this as an opportune moment to set out the guidelines for priests in the northern New Jersey archdiocese.
"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," James Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said in an email.