The governor of the state of New York, by the size of the state and its economy, holds a great deal of power. The bishop of New York, by the position and the prestige of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, yields lots of power as well. Many of the governors of the state of New York have been active Catholics.
Within the last few weeks the newly elected Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo and the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan have been in conflict. The conflict is not new. As a matter of fact, one can argue that in the same way that Mario Cuomo challenged the Catholic Church, so his son is now doing the same. The father challenged the church on the issue of abortion and the son is challenging the church about living with a woman without being married and the right of homosexual couples to get married.
The direct challenge for the Catholic Church is what constitutes a good Catholic or a Catholic in good standing. The Roman Catholic Church has no problem with telling the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants that while they may be close to the Kingdom of God, only the Catholics have the complete truth. This is displayed when the priests and bishops announce that only Catholics in good standing can approach the Eucharistic Table and receive the bread and the wine. Personally, I have been to enough services in the Roman Catholic Churches that that particular exclusion does not bother me. The Roman Catholic Church states that in order to participate, one has to agree with the teaching and practice what the church is teaching. I respect the teaching of the Church and I do not go forward to partake.
This position brings me to the center of the Cuomo politics because they argue that they can be good Catholics without practicing what the church is teaching.
Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York from 1983-1994, challenged the position of the Roman Catholic Church on abortion during his speech at Notre Dame on September 13, 1984. Among his memorable parts of the speech are sentences such as,”… what is ideally desirable isn’t always feasible, that there can be different political approaches to abortion besides unyielding adherence to an absolute prohibition.” He also argued that one can side with the Catholic positions privately, but publicly it is not politically expedient. Public policy and politics trump theological convictions.
Andrew Cuomo is not as connected as his father was to the Roman Catholic Church and its theology. This is evident in his efforts to achieve the marriage vote for the homosexuals. Some politicians uphold that it was one of the best displays of politics. He persuaded his party, he worked behind the scenes so that some Republicans were threatened with absence of funds if they do not vote for the bill, and he was not afraid to confront the church and say that the Church was wrong.
There have been various bishops who called for the Governor to not receive the Eucharist at his inauguration as the Governor of New York. After the passage of the homosexual marriage bill in NY, other bishops and teachers of the canon law argue that because of his positions on abortion and homosexual marriage, as well as the fact that he lives with his girlfriend, he should not be allowed to partake of the Eucharist.
The Archbishop of New York is in a precarious dilemma and instead of teaching, he punted. Instead of issuing a statement of faith, which is the requirement for the bishop, he stated that the giving of the Eucharist is between the local priest and Mr. Andrew Cuomo. For a church where the teaching is passed from pope, council, and bishops to the local priests, this was an abdication moment. It made perfect sense in a Baptist context, where we uphold the autonomy of the local church, but in the Catholic Church it presented a theologically spineless bishop.
Last week, some politicians mentioned that Andrew Cuomo could be a running mate with President Obama, if Vice-President Biden does not run. One of the reasons for this mention was the success of Cuomo in passing the bill and his ability to raise great sums of money. It remains to be seen, if Archbishop Dolan will come around and see that his primary duty is to teach the absolute truth which has been challenged twice by the Cuomo dynasty.