Papal Consultant: Cuomo Should Be Denied Communion

It appears that the Vatican finally has its priorities in order.

After decades of dithering over priestly pedophilia, when the Vatican’s position was to handle these outrageous crimes internally rather than turn priests over for prosecution, Benedict XVI’s consultant to the Apostolica Signatura, the Vatican highest court, finally declared that enough was enough. No more coddling. No more evasion. It’s time to get tough and draw the line. No more wobbly excuses for inaction.

That’s right. Edward N. Peters, the consultant, who is also a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, stated in no uncertain terms that Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, should be shown no mercy. His offense? Seems that the governor has been shacking up—not with underage boys, mind you, but with his longtime partner, Sandra Lee. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Cuomo also supports same-sex marriage and believes that abortion is a private matter that shouldn’t be regulated by the state.

Cuomo, according to Peters, should not receive communion: “if he approaches for Holy Communion, he should be denied the august sacrament.” In fact, Peters says, the governor’s “taking Holy Communion is objectively sacrilegious and produces grave scandal within the faith community.”

All of this calls to mind the kerfuffle over John Kerry during the presidential campaign of 2004. Like Cuomo, Kerry, a devout Roman Catholic, is pro-choice, and several bishops declared that if Kerry showed up for mass he should be denied the sacrament because his stand on abortion violated church teaching. This set up what journalists covering the campaign called the “wafer watch” to see if any cleric actually would turn the Democratic nominee away from the altar rail.

Yes, abortion is contrary to church teaching, and it has been since at least the nineteenth century. But there are two things that I found confounding during the days of the “wafer watch.” First, and most obviously, taking a political stand that access to abortion should be legal does not mean, on the part of a politician, that he or she believes that abortion itself is moral. It simply means that the politician does not think that the government should have jurisdiction over gestation. (No one, by the way, has made this argument more eloquently and forcefully than Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father and former governor of New York.)

Second, if support for reproductive rights disqualifies a Catholic politician from receiving the sacrament because abortion violates church teaching, why shouldn’t that disqualification also apply to other politicians who support policies that contradict church teaching? The Vatican opposes capital punishment, for example, and John Paul II adamantly opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

By the same logic that applied to John Kerry’s “wafer watch,” shouldn’t Roman Catholic politicians who support capital punishment or the war in Iraq also be denied Holy Communion? (I’m sure the fact that politicians who fall into the latter category tend disproportionately to be Republicans rather than Democrats has nothing, nothing at all, to do with the distinction.)

Here’s an idea for Mr. Peters. If he’s truly worried about a “grave scandal within the faith community,” I suggest he consider those clerics who were complicit in the conspiracy of silence and obfuscation that surrounded the pedophilia scandals. Perhaps they are the ones who should be turned away from the altar rail.

It’s a matter of priorities.

randall.balmer@dartmouth.edu'

Randall Balmer, Mandel Family Professor in the Arts & Sciences at Dartmouth College, is the author of a dozen books, including The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond and Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. He wrote, produced and hosted a PBS documentary on Billy Graham, Crusade: The Life of Billy Graham.