Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Sunday, June 26, 2011

What canonical consequences might Andrew Cuomo face now?

Reminder: 1. This website offers my* 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.

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”, 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…” 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**, 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.

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.

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 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 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.

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.

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* 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.

** 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.

A blessed Feast of Corpus Christi to my readers!

Update 28 June 2011.

Niraj Warikoo at the Detroit Free Press has a short article on my recent commentary regarding NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s access to holy Communion in the light of his efforts in support of “gay marriage”. The quotes that Warikoo provides from me are accurate (perhaps the result of my policy to respond to most secular reporters promptly, but only, in writing); some of his characterizations of my position are less so.

For example, in his opening sentence Warikoo writes that I am “blasting” Gov. Cuomo. Folks, what does “blasting” even mean, and what of my writing merits that label? Or is any well-reasoned objection to another’s accurately-presented positions tantamount to “blasting” these days? Later, Warikoo says that I am calling for “punishment” of Cuomo, when I hardly could have made plainer that withholding holy Communion is not, under Canon 915, a punishment for crime, but rather, a sacramental disciplinary law (an especially odd mistake for Warikoo, considering that he got the distinction right later when he discussed, without identifying it, a possible penal process against Cuomo under Canon 1369). And, speaking of getting things right, Warikoo correctly noted that I am not a spokesman for the pope, but he opined that my views “views are heard at high levels in the church.” Again, I’m not sure what that even means, so I am not sure whether it’s true, but if it is true to say my views are heard at high levels of the Church, then all I can say is, “Sure, along with a boatload of others’ views."

Another version of Warikoo's article is here.