Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Cuomo’s concubinage and holy Communion

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, and Sandra Lee, a television celebrity, live in what is known technically as public concubinage. The fact that both Cuomo and Lee are divorced renders the concubinage adulterous on both sides as well.

Under Decretal law, concubinage among laity was a crime that, if not foresworn after three warnings, could result in the excommunication of the offender(s).
Taunton, The Law of the Church (1906) at 226. Under Pio-Benedictine law, lay concubinage was a crime that, upon conviction, could result in “exclusion from ecclesiastical acts”, something less than interdict (itself one step shy of excommunication). 1917 CIC 2357 § 2. Finally, under the Johanno-Pauline Code, concubinage among lay persons is not criminalized, though it can have some effects under marriage law which are not relevant to this case. 1983 CIC 1093.

But, notwithstanding the steady canonical “decriminalization” of concubinage (basically for the same kinds of reasons that led to adultery being decriminalized in most states), the lifestyle adopted by Cuomo and Lee continues to have—or should have—serious consequences under
Canon 915 for the reception of holy Communion.

Cuomo, on the grounds of his public concubinage alone (and setting aside complications arising from his strong support for legalized abortion, etc.), should not approach Communion per
Canon 916; if he does approach, he should be refused the sacrament per Canon 915. Cuomo should still attend Mass, of course (c. 1247), and within one year of his last Confession he should duly receive that sacrament again (c. 989), but he should not be taking Communion while he lives in public concubinage. And if Lee is Catholic, the exact same analysis would apply to her.

It is Albany Bp. Howard Hubbard’s responsibility to see to it that the common discipline of the Church is promoted and that all ecclesiastical laws are observed, exercising particular vigilance against abuse of the sacraments and the worship of God.
1983 CIC 392. Unfortunately, Hubbard’s rah-rah inaugurational homily before Cuomo and Lee, in which, without admonition for their objectively and publicly sinful status, the prelate seemed to have anointed the pair as his kind of evangelizers in government, and his complicity in the administration of Communion to Cuomo, amounts, in my opinion, to another dereliction of pastoral duty. + + +

PS: re Catholic League President Bill Donohue's (non-)comment that “We're not one to pass judgment” on how people conduct their personal life “or how people celebrate their religion”, while I find the second remark odd, I don't see anything wrong with his basic point. CL is not in the business of "passing judgment" on personal life (though, I might add, no responsible critic is in such a business, and neither is Canon 915). If, however, a reporter were to ask Donohue whether a Catholic bishop should should give Communion to a Catholic (politician or otherwise) who is ineligble to receive the sacrament, if only for the sake of political comity, I suspect Donohue would give a different answer.

PPS: I'll be talking about this incident with Drew Mariani today at 5:45 pm Eastern. Join us at