Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Saturday, February 26, 2011

A reply to Dan Collins at the Huffington Post

I pause to make a few comments on Dan Collins’ column over at Huffington Post, "Will Andrew Cuomo Burn in Hell?"

Collins offers, perhaps despite himself, some good teaching moments to those who see the Cuomo & Communion controversy as, among other things, a chance to underscore that Church teaching makes real demands of Catholics in real life. But Collins also offers, unfortunately, some poor examples on how to write about those with whom one differs.

Let’s look at three of his points:

1. Collins writes: “While the Supreme Being will make the final call on this one, it's not looking good for the New York governor (and perhaps his girlfriend) if a conservative professor at a Catholic seminary in Detroit is correct.”

Now, all sarcasm has some elements of truth, so let’s appreciate them.

First, the “Supreme Being”, and He alone, will indeed judge each and every individual human being at death. CCC 1021-1022. Second, I have described Cuomo’s and Lee’s situation as objectively (a qualifier that probably means more to me than it does to Collins) gravely sinful. See below, and CCC 2380-2381. Third, it is basic Catholic teaching that if one dies with unrepented mortal sin on one’s soul, one goes to Hell. CCC 1033-1035. Collins can agree with those teachings or reject them, but he has no business aiming his sarcasm at a Catholic writer who is making points about Catholic teaching for the information of Catholic readers and leaders, albeit in a conversation that anyone with internet access is welcome to observe.

In any case, shuddering even to contemplate the punishment of Hell being visited on a fellow being, and knowing that Church law (my specialty) has no jurisdiction over such eventualities, I said nothing about Hell. Collins did. For reasons he chooses not to share.

2. Collins quotes me accurately when I wrote: "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," but inexplicably he then describes me having "thundered" this point in my blog.

Here I offer a suggestion to Collins: If you are going to accuse me of thundering, don’t quote a line that shows me calmly and accurately describing an admittedly controversial situation. Doing so only causes readers to shift their focus from me to you, making them wonder "What sort of hypersensitivity to religious commentary must Collins have if he views a line like that as thundering? Collins needs to read some Jonathan Edwards or Samuel Parris if he really thinks Peters is thundering here.” *

3. Collins writes “Dragging Lee in the debate -- as an adulterer no less -- seemed a breathtaking leap for Peters, a man who hadn't even bothered to find out if she was a Catholic.”

This is a cheap shot. How does Collins know what I bothered to find out or didn't?

As a matter of fact, being reasonably interested, I did look up Lee and found out that she was not** Catholic. But so what? Lee’s religious status is irrelevant to the characterizations of her actions. Moreover, my “leap” is hardly “breathtaking”.

First, the Catholic Church presumes the “validity” of pretty much any marriage that looks like a marriage until proven otherwise. Canon 1060. Our canon law accords that presumption to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Second, we believe that spouses have a general duty to maintain their common living. Canon 1151. Third, we do not accept that a civil decree of divorce ruptures the marriage bond, whether it’s a Catholic marriage or otherwise. CCC 2384. From these points, we conclude that a married woman, Catholic or not, cohabiting with a man, Catholic or not, to whom she is not married, is doing something objectively gravely wrong. As is the man. See generally CCC 2380-2381, Canon 1152, and Forbes, Canonical Separation (1948) at 155. There are no leaps in this logic. Just a short series of simple steps.

I did not bring Lee’s religion into this discussion because it is irrelevant to our analysis of this situation. I do not know why Collins apparently thinks otherwise. At any rate, Lee’s religious status is certainly irrelevant to my description of the public conduct of Andrew Cuomo, who is Catholic and consequently has special obligations toward the Eucharist. + + +

* My kids found this criticism of their dad especially funny. "Since when", my daughter asks, "does someone use a word like 'technically' when he's thundering? We've heard Dad thunder, and he doesn't use the word 'technically' then." Kids say the darndest things.

** I have since looked more. Lee's religious status is quite ambiguous (assuming it's relevant to this discussion, which it is not).