Ed Peters on NY Gov. Cuomo’s support of contrary-to-nature unions and Holy Communion

The Canonical Defender, the great Ed Peters, has opined about the scandalous, aggressive, public support given to contrary-to-nature-unions by NY state Gov. Andrew Cuomo, catholic.

My emphases. My comments. I inserted his own footnotes, indicated by asterisks, directly into the text within my usual []. Be sure to check his site.

What canonical consequences might Andrew Cuomo face now?

Reminder: 1. This website offers my* [* Many in the secular media seem incapable of understanding or accepting that, in my blog commentary, I speak only for myself, and not for any other group or organization, particularly the Vatican/Holy See. Continued disregard of this simple point, which I make plain at the upper right column of my blog, is a dereliction toward the truth.] commentary on the canonical implications of certain news events. 2. My regular readers are familiar with sound Catholic thought in such areas as, for example, the nature of marriage, the moral parameters of private and governmental decision-making, personal sin and public scandal, the theology of holy Communion, and the basic role of canon law in the Church, and so I do not lay the kinds of foundations in such matters that one engaged in, say, apologetics would otherwise have to provide. 3. If anyone finds himself insufficiently familiar with some of the Catholic terminology and concepts assumed in this discussion, I would urge study of the pertinent passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or consultation with the auctores probatos.

The Catholic Church, drawing upon the teachings of Jesus Christ and echoing Natural Law, holds that marriage is possible only between a man and a woman and, consequently, that only men and women who have undertaken to live in such a relationship should be recognized and treated as married. The male-female requirement for marriage is an unalterable teaching of the Church and, while it might be subjected to ridicule by some nowadays, it is not subject to revision by either Church or State. Moreover, unlike some teachings of the Church that have no practical implications in the civil arena, that teaching which holds marriage possible only between a man and a woman has vital ramifications for civil society and—long story omitted—for those Catholics privileged to be especially charged with caring for the common good through political institutions[I love the way this guy writes.]

Among the many persons laboring in New York to accord same-sex unions the civil legal status of marriage, no one played a more important, and indeed a constitutionally essential, role than did the governor of the Empire State, Andrew Cuomo, a Roman Catholic. Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign touted his strong support for “gay marriage”, [I detest that label.  There is nothing “happy” about these unions, in the true sense of happiness, and they are not “marriages”, in the true sense of marriage.] he used his enormous influence to push key legislators into voting for New York’s “gay marriage” bill, and he signed that bill into law hardly an hour after it was passed. Without Cuomo’s long-standing and vigorous public support for “gay marriage”, without his unswerving political efforts to advance that project and, most specifically, without his signature on the bill (placed there with obvious enthusiasm and much self-satisfaction), New York would not have legalized “gay marriage” on June 24.

In the wake of these incontestable facts, and speaking only from my expertise in Catholic canon law (leaving cultural and political commentary to others) Andrew Cuomo faces, as I see it, at least two major canonical problems.

First, Cuomo’s long pattern of conduct in regard to “gay marriage” warrants, in my opinion, a canonical investigation under Canon 1717 into whether he has “in a public show or speech, published writings, or in other uses of the instruments of social communications … gravely injure[d] good morals…[A canonical investigation is certainly in order.  However, on the face of it, Gov. Cuomo, a catholic, has certainly used his position and the media to promote something which will result in harm of morality and confusion among the faithful.] and on that account is to be punished (puniatur) with a just penalty per Canon 1369. That said, only rarely has the canonical criminal process been invoked against lay persons in our lifetimes** [** Offhand, the most recent American example that comes to mind is New Orleans Abp. Joseph Rummel’s 1962 excommunication of three lay Catholics for agitating against the desegregation of archdiocesan schools.], and the outlines of that process deserve more treatment than can be accorded them in a blog post. In any event, assuming the canon means what it plainly says, I suggest that some among the friends and foes of Cuomo (I figure among neither group) begin briefing Canon 1369[In other words, let someone start a process?]

Second, and much more urgently because it arises from sacramental discipline and not from the canonical penal process, Cuomo’s long pattern of conduct in regard to “gay marriage” triggers, in my opinion, an obligation on his part to refrain from approaching for holy Communion per Canon 916 and, should he approach anyway, upon ministers of holy Communion to withhold that august sacrament from “those obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” per Canon 915.

I am already on record as believing Cuomo ineligible for holy Communion on the basis of his improper living arrangements with a television celebrity, a relationship I characterized as “public concubinage” and which characterization no one has yet canonically challenged, let alone rebutted. See generally Edward Peters, “The Cuomo-Communion Controversy”, Catholic World Report (May 2011) 33-35.  [You can look back at some of that controversy, and the vain, agitated, distracted and empty attacks on Dr. Peters here.]

But in almost every relevant way, Cuomo’s protracted actions in regard to “gay marriage” are even more brazen.

Cuomo’s concubinage gives prominent bad example against marriage, but his official actions in regard to “gay marriage” have changed the very definition of marriage in the populous state under his care; Cuomo’s living arrangements are of immediate canonical concern to only two of New York’s eight arch/bishops, but his political actions in regard to “gay marriage” negatively impact the pastoral mission of every Catholic bishop, parish priest, deacon, and lay minister throughout the Province of New York; finally, while most of the bishops of New York said little or nothing about Cuomo’s living with a woman not his wife, his long-standing actions in regard to “gay marriage” were challenged repeatedly, directly, and forcefully by the Archbishop of New York and by all his seven suffragans.

In light of the foregoing, I see no way, absent a public reversal of his public conduct, that Andrew Cuomo may present himself for holy Communion (per Canon 916), and, if he does present himself, I see no way that a minister of holy Communion may administer the sacrament to him (per Canon 915). Indeed, the only question in my mind [NOTA BENE:] is whether the ordinaries of New York should lift from the shoulders of individual ministers the burden of reaching this decision, by making a determination to this effect themselves [That would be the pastoral thing to do in regards to the ministers.  No?] and, assuming they do reach this conclusion, whether they should announce it publicly or in a personal letter to Cuomo. (Personally, I think a public announcement more befits the markedly public character of Cuomo’s conduct and responds better to the danger of scandal presented to the faithful by his actions).

Some other brief points:

Application of Canon 915 to Andrew Cuomo would not mean that he is excommunicated. I am not aware of any actions by Andrew Cuomo to date for which he faces excommunication. [Interesting.]

Cuomo is still bound to attend Sunday Mass (c. 1247), irrespective of his situation under Canons 915 or 916.

The New York State Catholic Conference does not have canonical authority over the application of Canons 915 and/or 1369, but it might provide a convenient mechanism for coordinating episcopal action.

Assuming the application of Canon 915 against Cuomo, I believe that other ministers outside of New York with knowledge of the decision should honor it as a function of communion per Canon 209.

Cuomo has repeatedly stated that he hopes New York’s legalization of “gay marriage” will serve as a powerful statement to others across the country. He need have no doubt about that, for it certainly will. But, by the same token, however the bishops of New York respond to Cuomo’s pivotal role in securing the legalization of “gay marriage” in New York will undoubtedly serve as an example to other bishops confronting Catholic complicity in the push to grant the legal status of marriage to same sex unions in their territories.

Some other prominent Catholics played important roles in bringing about the events of June 24, but analysis of their situations warrants a separate treatment. There is, in the meantime, nothing wrong with starting with the most serious case.

I cannot but agree with everything Dr. Peters has written.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I agree 100%.

  2. ContraMundum says:

    I wish I believed that American bishops had the mustard seed of courage needed to take action, but their track record indicates they will be paralyzed by fear of losing tax-exempt status, or even less excusably, by the fear of missing out on social functions with the “right people”.

  3. AnAmericanMother says:

    This is what happens when people are not disciplined in a timely manner (for giving public scandal, or for anything else).

    When they find that their misbehavior provokes no consequences, they just keep upping the ante, pushing the envelope, defying authority, whatever you want to call it.

    “Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

    -Winston Churchill

  4. Joe in Canada says:

    I wonder if ‘ “Catholic” ‘ might not be better than ‘ catholic ‘ for such people. I went to school with High Anglicans who were not Catholic but were very catholic in their approach to things. They were not hypocrites – “Catholic”, claiming to be one thing and acting contrarily.

    I am sure Dr Peters has explained the difference between ‘excommunicated’ and ‘inelegible to receive Holy Communion’.

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    A question for guys and gals who know their cannon law

    If the Bishop in the Diocese where Gov. Cuomo lives formally Excomunicates him (bell, book and Candle) and reserves the the right to lift the excommunication to himself rather than one of the Parish Priests (I Know that odinarally only a Bishop can lift the Latæ sententiæ excommunication arising from abortion but in practise they nearly all delegate that power to the Priests of the Diocese) does the governor have to go to that Bishop or could he in theory go to another bishop, either in New York State or outside?

  6. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Of course Dr. Peters is right, but nothing will happen. We can talk about canon law and yada yada yada all we want, but our bishops march by a different tune. Even when they are orthodox, they take a very broad interpretation of the JPII principle of “propose, not impose”. “How dare we impose Catholicism on our flock, especially the rich and powerful among them?”

  7. seanl says:

    As always, I will be praying for the bishops, but sadly I share the lack of optimism towards the possibility of their intervention. Prayers for conversion all around.

  8. CarpeNoctem says:

    Should I remind folks about Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois who signed a “civil unions” bill this last year, as well? He had the chutzpah to proclaim before God and everyone that he signed this this bill in response to his “faith” and “conscience.” He claims to be Catholic, his putatively-Catholic faith formed at the hands of Catholic schools in Chicago (St. Isaac Jogues/Hinsdale, Fenwick HS/Oak Park, Georgetown/DC according to our friends at Wikipedia)

    Where are the bishops on this? There are a few who spoke up, even directly challenging Quinn on his “faith” which lead him to sign this bill (a “faith” which is definitely not “Catholic”). What does it take to receive corrective discipline from the Church for his own good and for the good of the faithful? Seriously–does he need to be ordained by a womyn-bishop to receive a spiritual father’s, ahem, “loving correction”? (Ok, that last line is a bit snarky, but, come on!)

    OK, maybe law doesn’t have the teeth or precision to issue a binding prohibition against receiving Holy Communion, but how about at least a public warning which is specific about sacramental discipline for the good of the individual and the good of the Church?

  9. irishgirl says:

    I agree with everything Dr. Peters says-I only wish that our Bishops would have the guts to hurl some big-time EXCOMMUNICATIONS against these so-called ‘Catholic’ politicians.
    But I’m not holding my breath on it….
    I wish that Dr. Peters was a Bishop instead of just a lay canon lawyer….

  10. ContraMundum says:

    I don’t know beans about canon law. What exactly has changed, so that Dr. Peters can say on the one hand, “Offhand, the most recent American example that comes to mind is New Orleans Abp. Joseph Rummel’s 1962 excommunication of three lay Catholics for agitating against the desegregation of archdiocesan schools,” yet on the other hand, “I am not aware of any actions by Andrew Cuomo to date for which he faces excommunication”?

    Certainly it would not be fun for them to excommunicate Cuomo; they would no doubt find themselves pestered by retaliatory investigations and regulations, and Maureen Dowd and her paper would do their best to write unflattering stories, but this sort of unpleasantness comes with the hat.

  11. ContraMundum says:

    I said “them”, but of course, the excommunication would be the act only of his local ordinary, though he of course could be expected to discuss the matter with his colleagues first.

  12. Brooklyn says:

    Archbishop Dolan met with Cuomo shortly after Cuomo received communion despite his live-in relationship and his support of abortion and same sex marriage. What was Archbishop Dolan’s reaction? From the New York Times:

    In a statement, Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said: “The governor enjoyed his lunch meeting with Archbishop Dolan and the bishops from the Catholic Conference. He looks forward to continuing to work closely with them during his administration.”

    The meeting was closely scrutinized because Mr. Cuomo had previously said he would be unable to meet with Archbishop Dolan on Monday due to a scheduling conflict, a move some in Albany suggested was an intentional snub by a governor unhappy with the public criticism of his living arrangements. But Tuesday’s lunch was quickly scheduled and a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said on Monday that no snub was intended.

    Archbishop Dolan said on Tuesday that he had accepted Mr. Cuomo’s explanation and that the issue had not arisen during lunch.

    Thank God it didn’t, because it was a bit of a tempest in a teapot,” the archbishop said. “We were just happy to be there, and he obviously was, too.”

    He added that the rescheduled meeting had had another benefit.

    “We got lunch out of it,” Archbishop Dolan said.

    Ah, that Archbishop, always quick with the quip. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t do much about the scandal and harm to souls.

  13. ContraMundum says:

    For anyone who may be able to answer it, my question was not rhetorical. Did the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law really restrict the authority of the bishops so much that they cannot do in 2011 what Archbishop Rummel did in 1962? If that is not the issue, what exactly is the canonical obstacle to an excommunication? Is this a matter of process — the governor would have to be warned first and then refuse to come into line? If so, the warnings should have been made long ago, but at least there would be no apparent canonical obstacle to beginning the process by issuing warnings now.

  14. Dr. K says:

    Bishop Hubbard will not take action. Period.

  15. amenamen says:

    @ [I detest that label. There is nothing “happy” about these unions, in the true sense of happiness, and they are not “marriages”, in the true sense of marriage]

    True. They are not happy (the word “gay,” which once had no vicious or unnatural connotations, may now be totally beyond restoration to its original meaning). Nor are they marriages, in any sense of the word. In fact, I wonder if the word “union” can be used to describe the thing that happens when two members of the same sex … consort? conspire? comport? play house?

    The term “public concubinage” comes to mind. But that term is taken already. And concubines might object.

  16. Ef-lover says:

    Dr. Peters “What canonical consequences might Andrew Cuomo face now?”

    Answer — none.

  17. bookworm says:

    “What does it take to receive corrective discipline from the Church for his (Gov. Quinn of Illinois) own good and for the good of the faithful?”

    Well, I live in Springfield and have attended the Cathedral for 6 years, and I have yet to see Gov. Quinn or any other statewide official at Sunday Mass there, despite the fact that the governor’s mansion is only a couple of blocks away. Perhaps — I’m just speculating here — he’s been PRIVATELY advised by Bp. Paprocki to avoid recieving Communion and he’s chosen to heed that advice in order to avoid making a public stink?

    I could see this happening, particularly since Bp. Paprocki and other clergy of this diocese were conspicuously absent from Quinn’s inaugural festivities. Since Quinn spends most weekends and holidays in Chicago anyway, if his pastor/bishop there don’t object to him receiving Communion (if indeed he does), there isn’t anything Bp. Paprocki or any other Illinois bishop can do about that.

  18. bookworm says:

    By “any other Illinois bishop” I mean those of the dioceses other than Chicago.

  19. Former Altar Boy says:

    The failure of the Albany bishop to enforce Church law in this regard is why so many Catholics (albeit poorly catechized, weak, or generally ignorant) drift away from the Church. They ask, why should I be required to follow all the rules if a bishop doesn’t have to?

  20. benedetta says:

    I don’t know that people fall away because of lack of visible consequences to people who give poor example or public scandal, false teaching. I admit that it is a problem and a challenge. I think that people fall away because of poor catechesis combined with liturgy which lacks the opportunity to transcend everyday life. I think that an excommunication would be deeply satisfying and just on one level however I think that it could do more harm to those who have not had opportunity to know the authentic faith than achieving justice, given the atmosphere of anti-Catholicism at work in all levels of society and especially the media. I am just not convinced that high profile dissenters are convincing of what they themselves profess. You don’t see masses of people joining up. You see some people confirmed in their political stances and to some degree this is divorced from authentic spirituality. And the media and elites crave excommunication like nothing else it seems. They desire it so that they can make a big point for themselves about the Church, to prove their stereotyped conclusions they assert and that then makes the Church an instrumentality of a deceit, of a program and agenda that is in fact not the Church’s.

    There have been times in the history of the Church where people have been quietly converted, huge numbers, whole regions in times when heresy or lapse widespread, people convinced theirs was the better way. It can happen without mass excommunications. It does not happen just by magic obviously. But even in dioceses with strong leadership, bad catechesis did happen, was widespread. In some places there is that with weird liturgy combined and the results are there as far as encouragement in the faith.

    I do think that first and foremost people limit communion with God and the Church by their very own actions which have nothing to do with pronouncement of the Church. Grown ups can easily know what the Church teaches and the good reasons why. The sources of the faith are trustworthy and are very practical for a program for life, with commitment and maybe a little sacrifice at times, and the “reward” is of course infinite. If you see in the gift of communion something that is an extension of a political or public self then the return will be somewhat limited, by one’s very own choice and actions, having nothing to do with what a Bishop may do or have to say. If a Bishop refuses to point even this quite simple fact out to his flock I do not know what to make of it other than that he would also need our prayers.

  21. Joe in Canada says:

    CarpeNoctem, bookworm, and others: have the US Bishops, or has the Church, spoken against the legalization of same-sex civil unions? In many places Catholics have suggested legalization of civil unions instead of redefining marriage.

  22. muckemdanno says:

    Sorry. Excommunications are only issued against SSPX-ers. (And then, even after the excommunication is lifted, they are still treated as though they are not Catholic, or some sort of lesser Catholic, through the use of the nefarious “not in full communion” phrase.)

    Andrew Cuomo, on the other hand, is in “full” communion with the Catholic Church. After all, he has only legalized homosexual marriage, placing it on par with the sacrament of matrimony, and lives in an objective state of mortal sin with a woman not his wife. He has not done something so terribly serious as call into question the use of the word “subsist” in a 50 year old document, or question the theological merit of the ecumenical movement.

  23. ronu says:

    Father Z,
    I believe you have written of Fr. Michael Rodriguez in the past. Here he is in a city council meeting.

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