It’s rare these days to find Catholics who want to enter into public service as Catholics. Most want to be “personally Catholic” and “publicly Liberal.”
Wherever the Catholic standard does not agree with the constantly shifting standard of “public reason,” for too many Catholic politicians, their faith loses every time. That’s bad for them, for the faith, and for the common good too. It’s bad for Catholic children to see very public Catholic role models teach with their laws things contrary to the Faith they share. It’s bad for non-Catholics to see Catholic politicians teaching to citizens through their legislation things which are untrue and immoral.
For this reason, bishops have an obligation to help hold Catholic politicians to the standard of their own faith. In a recent letter, Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane did just that, writing that Catholic politicians who support abortion must not present themselves for communion at Masses.
Efforts to expand access to abortion, allowing murder of children up to the moment of birth is evil. Children are a gift from God, no matter the circumstances of their conception. They not only have a right to life, but we as a society have a moral obligation to protect them from harm.
The champion of this abortion legislation is Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic and governor of New York. Governor Cuomo frequently cites his Catholic faith in support of legislation he favors. His public witness as a Catholic politician, coupled with his stalwart support of abortion, is unacceptable.
Politicians who reside in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, and who obstinately persevere in their public support for abortion, should not receive Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church (cf. Canon 915; “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles.” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2004).
Bishop Daly is to be applauded for actually taking his responsibilities as a Bishop seriously enough to use the disciplines of the Church to admonish and teach his flock. However, Bishop Daly doesn’t address any politician in Spokane, but one in the Archdiocese of New York, namely Governor Cuomo.
A spokesman for the Diocese told J.D. Flynn of the Catholic News Agency that Bishop Daly’s letter “is not commenting directly on any one politician in his diocese, but making clear that it is important to understand that the Catholic faith and public abortion advocacy are incompatible. The principle is that if one persists in a public way in supporting abortion access they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.”
In response to Catholics who demand that Governor Cuomo be excommunicated, Cardinal Dolan has claimed that it would be counter-productive. But perhaps Bishop Daly offers some good fraternal advice to Cardinal Dolan, appealing not to Canons 1398 or 1399 which concern excommunication but to Canon 915, which says that anyone who “obstinately” perseveres in “manifest grave sin” are also not to be admitted to Holy Communion. What could be more manifest, or more gravely sinful, than promoting abortion on demand, the direct intentional killing of human life, legal from conception to the hospital delivery room? What could be more evident than the fact that Governor Cuomo obstinately perseveres, in outward defiance of his own faith.
Cardinal Dolan could write a similar letter which would not be counter-productive, but could on the contrary be an important teaching moment for all.
C C Pecknold is Associate Professor of Theology, and a Fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology, at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC
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