Canonist Ed Peters on trying Gov. Andrew “the Ghoul” Cuomo for heresy. Fr. Z makes some observations.

When I was travel back to these USA from Tokyo, I was addressed by fellow travelers about Gov. Cuomo.  “When is he going to excommunicated?”  They were really angry.

People are angry.  Rightly so.  They want action, not words, from bishops.  Rightly so.  They have vague notions about something dramatic called “excommunication”, so they want that.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind some Richard Burton/Becket style bell, book and candle against Cuomo’s backside, but only if the law truly supported it.

However, the fact remains that we have laws in the Church.  When it comes to application of censures to people who commit sins we have to interpret the law as strictly as possible in order to protect the rights of the accused.  That makes the “prosecution’s” case much harder to argue.

Today, canonist-galore Ed Peters has long and pretty comprehensive look at another canonists idea that Gov. Cuomo could be tried for heresy: “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith”.  Peters breaks down all the terms and looks at the feasibility of such a case.

Anyone interested in what “heresy” is, or how canonical procedures work, would do well to read his whole offering.  It is a mini-workshop and very informative.  At the very least it will give the average reader a new view of how high the bar is for imposing a sanction on a person.

Peters also make the point that a failed attempt at imposing a censure on Cuomo would make matters worse.  Whatever is undertaken has to be done meticulously.

NB:  In another state capital, Springfield of Illinois, after the governor signed same-sex marriage legislation, Bp. Paprocki performed an exorcism over the whole state.  HERE  It may be that excommunication will be difficult to impose.  That doesn’t mean that bishops must do nothing.   

Every single bishop of New York can take up his copy of the Rituale Romanum and perform an exorcism over the whole state.

Abortions are sins that attract demonic influence and oppression.  Exorcism of any place where abortions are performed is appropriate and necessary.

Once again, the well-known observation of St Thomas More comes to mind, that was strikingly portrayed in the movie A Man For All Seasons.  According to Thomas’ biographer William Roper, the saint did say indicate something along these lines, and it made it into Robert Bolt’s play and screenplay.  But the dramatic version makes the point crystal clear.

Scene: Richard Rich, who later betrays Thomas, leaves the room.

ALICE MORE: Arrest him!
ALICE: He’s dangerous!
WILLIAM ROPER: For libel, he’s a spy!
MARGARET MORE: Father, that man’s bad.
MORE: There is no law against that.
ROPER: There is! God’s law!
MORE: Then God can arrest him.
ALICE: While you talk, he’s gone!
MORE: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
ROPER: So! Now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: Yes! I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

And just because I mentioned Becket, above, here are scenes which serve to increase my desire to see bishops of this stripe today.

When people come up to priests on airplanes and in airports to vent about Gov. Cuomo, what they are really calling for a bishops who bishop.

First, how a bishop ought to deal with errant, obstinate Catholic politicians in serious matters.  Sure, it reverses the role here, where the state accuses a bishop, instead of the other way around, but… damn… backbone!

Very dramatic.   But people today long for the spirit of this episcopal display.

Next, the excommunication scene.  Again, theatrical.  But, people want the strength and conviction of this moment, after decades of hand-wringing and placating.

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  1. RCAVictor says:

    Regarding exorcisms of a State, I hope the Bishops will use the traditional Rite, not the “updated” one, which, if I remember correctly, has been panned several times, including by the former priest CEO of HLI (can’t remember his name).

  2. L. says:

    Governor Cuomo seems like an obvious and extreme case for the imposition of a church sanction, but I wonder what the limiting principle might be on the selection of individuals for canonical trial and the imposition of church sanctions for violation of church law or teaching. Other legislators who vote in favor of abortion could be targets, as might those who support the distribution of artificial contraception by government. What about people like Justice Anthony Kennedy for some of his court decisions, or for Vice-President Pence who is an apostate?

  3. JustaSinner says:

    So, does the Church empanel a Grand Jury to look into Cuomo’s conduct to determine an ex communication? Is there a CSI (Catholic Sin Investigation) assigned to this case? Just what is the ‘legal’ procedure, Father? For legality to apply, the law must be just, applied to all and be public.

  4. Lurker 59 says:

    The catechetical problem within the US is rather severe. If we accept Card. Dolan’s position that it is improper to excommunicate Gov. Cuomo,we must recognize that that “improper” call by the people to excommunicate Gov. Cuomo as stemming from a lack of catechesis. If the people were catechized correctly, they would call for the proper sanction. BUT if there was proper catechesis, then the proper sanction would have already been applied by the bishops, for catechesis also includes teaching through sanctions. BUT if there was already this proper catechesis, then the bishops would have already been teaching, preaching, and acting prior and while this vote was coming into being and it would not have come to pass. BUT if there was already this proper catechesis then Gov. Cuomo would never have been elected, for Cuomo was clear in what he was going to do if elected and proper catechesis would have had Catholics vote for someone else. BUT if there was this proper catechesis, then the bishops would have been interested in saving Cuomo’s soul and they would have properly catechized him throughout his life teaching him the Faith and admonishing him to strive after virtue and Cuomo would have never done this thing.

    It is all for a lack of catechesis. Cuomo is just the fruit.

    But we are here now so what to be done? Catechesis and evangelization in New York are obviously broken and need to be rebuilt. Exorcisms and public acts of repentance and reparations for sins are a good foundation to start with. Make plans in terms of generations as it will take a while to undo this work of the devil.

  5. tho says:

    The devil has taken center stage in our America. We are in desperate need of one truly holy man who could speak out, and who would be heard by the country, railing against such atrocities, but where is he to be found? Sadly, most of our priests and bishops have accepted modernism, and as St. Pius X said, it is the greatest of all heresies.
    I believe that God, in His own good time, will settle with these people, and maybe send us another Becket.
    For now Father Z offers the best advice, Go To Confession, try to remain holy, and never give in to the advice of the worldly.

  6. Gil Garza says:

    It’s hard to imagine a situation where a canonical penalty would be more appropriate. This reveals the impotence of the modern Code in the face of critical challenge and grave evil.

  7. rollingrj says:

    Father, you normally provide a link to Dr. Peter’s posts. I don’t see one this time. When you have a moment, could one be provided?

    On a personal note, I hope you are staying warm.

  8. Rob83 says:

    Excommunication would be satisfying, but if the bishops really want to get somewhere with these scandalous politicians, I would propose they take an alternative action that only requires courage to actually pull it off:

    – Draw up a petition for the NO’s general intercessions in each diocese calling for the governor, as well as all legislators from that diocese who voted for this law, to repent from their public evil and crimes against the unborn and vote to repeal this law
    – Direct that the petition be said at every Mass at which intercessions are offered for as long as each offending politician remains in their office

    A man like Cuomo, I think, would relish an excommunication decree and going into a PR war against bishops who are not held in high regard at the moment due to the ongoing abuse scandal and with a mostly friendly toady media in his pocket. I don’t think his ego would react well to being called out thousands of times per week at churches across the state where the message is coming from the local priest without the benefit of being interpreted by friendly intermediaries.

    I know bishops like to avoid conflict, but war is upon them in this state, and decades of avoiding conflict has only managed to bring them to a spot where they have few friends and the contempt of many. The sense I get is that this law has shocked many and the bishops need to do something in response, and it cannot just be a press conference or a sternly worded letter, and then back to business as usual.

  9. Grant M says:

    Great videos. King Henry vs. St Thomas, 12th century version and 16th century version.

    Henry II: And another thing, Becket…your blue vestments!!

  10. Arthur McGowan says:

    The principal lie that the McCarrick-Wuerl administration in Washington has always told about Denial of Communion is that it is a “penalty” that a bishop MAY impose, provided he is comfortable doing so. Yes, being “uncomfortable” was the reason McCarrick gave for refusing to obey canon 915. Wuerl made up more and even more elaborate bald-faced lies about canon 915. Such as: A bishop or priest cannot possibly deny anyone Communion if he does not know “the state of the soul” of the would-be communicant. Since no human being can know the “state of the soul” of any other human being, it’s easy to see where that lie is taking us.

    Denial of Communion is not a “penalty,” and it is not an OPTION available to a bishop. It is absolutely MANDATORY. It is a strict, grave obligation. Every time a person who is obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin is permitted to receive Communion, grave scandal is caused, to the parish, the whole diocese, even the entire nation in some cases. Causing grave scandal is–by definition as it were–grave matter. Or, as the layman would be more likely to say, a mortal sin.

    It is more than a little annoying to see people bandying about creative ideas about what the bishops might do in response to monstrous crimes like the new Kermit Gosnell Memorial Statute in New York, when virtually no one is talking about what the bishops are STRICTLY OBLIGATED to do, under pain of mortal sin.

    I know that a modern bishop in the Church of Accompaniment is impervious to the notion that he has ANY “obligations.” What a quaint, Tridentine concept! A difficult issue arises? Just go on “Fox and Friends” or a local New York station, and emit word salad after word salad. The object of these exercises is to cause the laity to throw up their hands, throw in the towel, and stop writing those letters.

    It seems futile, but let me finish this way: Every bishop who fails to obey canon 915 is committing mortal sin. It isn’t about “will it work” or “it would be bad P.R.” or “we need to work together to pass a ‘DREAM Act.'”

    It’s about not committing mortal sin.

  11. Grant M says:

    From Wikipedia:

    The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.

    We’ll see what happens in the USA.

  12. Nathan says:

    Dr. Peters and other canon law writers have done a fine job outlining the canonical options for this case. There appear to be, as expected, plenty of things that the Cardinal could do about this crime. I fear the problem is much less about the application of canon law than it is in the Cardinal’s lack of will to exercise his responsibility for the care of souls.

    In Christ,

  13. Josephus Corvus says:

    @rollingrj – Dr. Peters’s site is If you scroll down on the right of Fr. Z’s blog here, you will find a list of blogs he follows. Dr. Peters’s blog is call “In the Light of the Law”. That link is to his old host, but once you get there, you can find another link to his current wordpress site.

  14. millercr2 says:

    Yet in a simple online search of Dolan and Cuomo, you see volumes of pictures and videos of these two smiling ear to ear together. Does that not give scandal to the Cardinal? It clearly gives the impression that things are fantastic, the two yuck it up and happy with each other. Oh, and Pope Francis included in many pictures and videos. Is there not a duty by the clergy not give scandal by appearing with politicians who are gravely and publicly sinful and give the impression of a joyous occasion? That’s what bothers me the most. And it’s not that Cuomo has only recently given scandal, it’s been going on for years and embodied in his politics and party.

  15. eamonob says:

    Fr, did you happen to hear Matt Fradd’s show on St Thomas Aquinas’s view on excommunication? Or Dr Taylor Marshall’s show on excommunication? He cites St Ambrose’s excommunication of the Roman emperor.

  16. Latinmass1983 says:

    Is it the case that the only times a public, obstinate, and contumacious sinner may be excommunicated are the ones mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law? Is it the case that the Ordinary of the place is limited to correct one of his subjects with excommunication only in the very few (and at times unclear) cases mentioned in the new Code of Canon Law?

    Interesting case Ed Peters makes about heresy, assuming, as he feels, that is the only case to be made for excommunicating Gov. Cuomo — the Molochite par excellance. However, if heresy is the angle to look at for this, IMAGINE! how many priests and bishops would automatically have a case of excommunication raised against THEM … as, we all know, many have openly taught and/or tolerated heresy for quite some time. In fact, the Bishop of Rome himself has lent his comments/interviews/sermons to such possible interpretations. But a Much Higher Authority will decide the appropriate time to correct that publicly contumacious behavior.

    If a charge of heresy would be the only way to have a case against Cuomo, all he’ll have to do is point the finger at the Bishops and have a case against them, too! This would make it even more unlikely (more like unthinkable) for any bishop in NY (or anywhere) to even consider the idea of excommunication — not that they’re doing it now anyway.

    It used to be the case, before Vatican II — when Church leaders were Catholics– that heresy was not the only way a person could give a bad/evil example to the faithful. What happened to the sanctification of souls, the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, the responsibility of public Catholic figures (Church and State), the avoidance of egregiously scandalous/sinful behavior, avoiding exposing the Sacraments to profanation, etc.?

    It’s possible that those things are seen as unnecessary in these post-Vat II days of ours. But, is it possible that the narrow way to heaven has been expanded thanks to the “dogmatic constitutions” Vatican II and the lack of courage and virtue in Catholic Church leaders? It’s always been said that Rome does not change quickly enough (though Paul VI obviously did not believe that!), but it’s even more certain that the Divine Law does not change at all.

  17. Joe in Canada says:

    And how many people will decide, based on Cardinal Dolan’s words and (in)actions, that the Church is not really concerned about this? That the leadership of the Church is more concerned about the cocktail circuit and keeping up appearances? Are the other bishops concerned about the scandal that Cardinal Dolan is causing?

  18. wmeyer says:

    The problem as I see is that these politicians who claim to be Catholic, but hold to very un-catholic principles, have the ability to influence large numbers of people. The lack of public challenge from the bishops effectively endorses what the politicians claim, and to me, this is a scandal, as thousands or millions may be led astray.

    I am not arguing for excommunication, though I think that some of these politicians surely incur latae sententiae. Nor am I willing to see the Church degenerate to a democracy, or to render decisions on the basis of public attitudes.

    But silence is manifestly not the answer.

    A bishop’s role is to shepherd his flock, which means he must act to protect that flock. How many are soon to do that in our time? Hobnobbing with the swells at the Al Smith dinner does not appear to protect the flock in any way, but grants power and cachet to people whose intentions are questionable, at best.

  19. Semper Gumby says:

    Perhaps Becket and Bishop Paprocki’s 2013 exorcism of Illinois was on the mind of Cardinal George of Chicago in 2014 when he wrote:

    “Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him. There is no such divine guarantee for any country, culture or society of this or any age.”

    Which brings us to a 2005 article in First Things by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, “Our American Babylon.” Here is the opening and several excerpts:

    Once upon a time—it was the 1976 bicentennial of the American founding, to be precise—I wrote a book on the American experiment and the idea of covenant. Time magazine picked up on it and reported, “On the day of judgment, Neuhaus wants to meet God as an American.”

    That’s not quite right. What I wrote is that I expect to meet God as an American. And that for the simple reason that, among all the things I am or have been or hope to be, I am undeniably an American. It is not the most important thing, but it is an inescapable thing. Nor, even were I so inclined, should I try to escape it. It is a pervasive and indelible part of what is called one’s “identity.” Among American thinkers, and not least among American theologians, one frequently discerns an attempt to escape one’s time and place. It is a very American thing to try to do.

    Not so long ago, American intellectuals, including American theologians, spent considerable time thinking about their place as Americans. But in the last half century or so, we have largely lost our story and our place in the story of the world. Theologians, too, have succumbed to the false-consciousness of having transcended the American experience, which is expressed, more often than not, in a typically American anti-Americanism that is relished and imitated by others, notably by European intellectuals. As in the writing of biography, or of history more generally, one cannot think truly about a story with which one is not sympathetically engaged. Love is sometimes blind, but contempt is always blind.

    Perhaps we should from the start attend to one common misunderstanding. To think about the American experiment theologically, or to suggest that God is not indifferent to the American experiment, in no way implies that people who are Americans are “special” in the sense of occupying a superior place in God’s concerns and purposes. The Christian tradition gives us to understand that a beggar on the streets of Calcutta is in the view of God, sub specie aeternitatis, as important as the president of the United States. As for the proud pretensions of worldly powers, Psalm 2 tells us that God holds them in derision, laughing them to scorn. And yet, it is precisely God’s concern for everyone, including the littlest and the least, that warrants our belief that He takes an interest in realities that affect billions of people on earth. America and its role in the world is such a reality.

    Thought that is real and not merely, as Cardinal John Henry Newman put it, “notional,” is thought that is sympathetically situated in time and place. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Christians have here no abiding city. In the third eucharistic prayer of the Mass we pray, “Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth.” We Christians are a pilgrim people, a people on the way, exiles from our true home, aliens in a strange land. There is in all the Christian tradition no more compelling depiction of our circumstance than St. Augustine’s City of God. Short of the final coming of the Kingdom, the City of God and the earthly city are intermingled. We are to make use of, pray for, and do our share for the earthly city. Here Augustine cites the words of Jeremiah urging the people not to fear exile in Babylon: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its peace you will find your peace.”

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