Dolan: We're not going to excommunicate Cuomo over abortion bill

Not even if Andrew Cuomo seems ready to shift from abortion to infanticide? No, says New York City’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who complains in this clip from The Catholic Channel about the “far right” demanding such action. “Excommunication should not be used as a weapon,” Dolan argues, and points out that canon law in the Catholic Church doesn’t support such an action anyway.


Besides, Dolan argues, it might give Cuomo exactly what he wants — a kind of secular martyrdom:

“Notable canon lawyers have said that, under canon law, excommunication is not an appropriate response to a politician who supports or votes for legislation advancing abortion,” said the statement, which laid out “general principles” and did not address any specific individual.

“From a pastoral perspective, if a pastor — and a bishop is certainly a pastor of a diocese — knows of a grave situation involving a parishioner, it is his duty to address that issue personally and directly with the parishioner,” it said, adding that this is the approach of Cardinal Dolan as it was of his predecessors as New York’s archbishop, the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor and the late Cardinal Edward M. Egan.

I’m a great admirer of Cardinal Dolan, but he’s wrong here, and wrong to cast this as a “far right” issue as well. Dolan’s not incorrect about the issue with canon law, which is as binding on the episcopacy as much as Catholics in the pews. Last week, I wrote a lengthy explanation of the difficulties in using excommunication over political positions, difficulties which Dolan would understand in much greater detail than a member of the laity.

In brief, canon law and the catechism hold that procuring or directly assisting in the procurement of an abortion amounts to an excommunicative act “latae sententiae,” or in the commission of the act. In other words, it doesn’t take a bishop or the Vatican to issue a declaration of excommunication under those circumstances — it happens on its own. But that only applies to specific acts of abortion and specific acts of facilitation thereof, not votes or political positions in general.


Beyond that, though, Dolan argues that it’s a “strategic” mistake as well as tactically impossible:

“From a strategic perspective,” excommunication is not effective because “many politicians would welcome it as a sign of their refusal to be ‘bullied by the church,’ thinking it would therefore give them a political advantage,” the statement said.

As an example of this “political advantage,” it cited how in 1989, Bishop Leo T. Maher, then head of the Diocese of San Diego, gained national attention when he forbade California Senate candidate Lucy Killea, a state assemblywoman, from receiving Communion because of her support for legal abortion, which had become a prominent feature of her campaign.

Well, maybe. Having one politician win one election isn’t much more than an anecdote. The dangers of having the Cuomos and Nancy Pelosis continuing to represent themselves as pro-abortion Catholics — to the point of celebrating the grotesque legalization of abortion up to the moment of birth — goes beyond elections anyway. These high-profile Catholics lead others astray on Catholic teaching on life (and family issues too, for that matter), and the lack of formal response bolsters that impact. If Cuomo remains in good standing with the church after last week, other Catholics might rightly assume that they also can pick and choose which teachings they’ll abide and which they won’t without any consequences.


The “far right” is hardly the only group who’s noticed that Cuomo has begun to “brag … about his dissent from timeless and substantive church belief” even without punitive action within the church. A New York Post op-ed took Cuomo to task for that as well as misrepresenting Pope Francis and blaming the bishops for a failure of a bill on sexual abuse of minors.

Then our governor insults and caricatures the church in what’s supposed to be an uplifting and unifying occasion, his “State of the State” address.

The bishops of this state have long supported a reform of the inadequate laws around the sexual abuse of minors. Yes, we and many others expressed reservations about one element, the retroactive elimination of the civil statute of limitations, but urged dramatic reform that, in many ways, was tougher than what was being proposed by legislators. A month ago we renewed that stance, and even dropped our objections to the “look-back” section if all victims would benefit. The governor was aware of all this.

Why, then, would he use his address to blame the church, and only the church, for blocking this bill? Why would he publicly brag in a political address about his dissent from timeless and substantive church belief? Why would he quote Pope Francis out of context as an applause line to misrepresent us bishops here as being opposed to our Holy Father? Why did he reduce the sexual abuse of minors, a broad societal and cultural curse that afflicts every family, public school, religion and government program, to a “Catholic problem?”

I’m a pastor, not a politician, but I feel obliged to ask these questions, as daily do I hear them from my people, as well as colleagues from other creeds. I’ve been attacked in the past when I asked — sadly and reluctantly — if the party that my folks proudly claimed as their own, the Democrats, had chosen to alienate faithful Catholic voters. Now you know why I asked.


Does this description sound like a politician who has any desire to remain in communion with the Catholic Church? Not at all. Want to know who wrote this? That figure of the “far right,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The answer may not be excommunication under Canon 1398, but the Catholic Church has to answer Cuomo somehow. Wringing hands on The Catholic Channel is all well and good, but it’s clearly not more effective than what Bishop Maher did with Lucy Killea. In fact, as Cuomo slouches towards straight-out infanticide, it’s become clear that ignoring the issue of pro-abortion Catholic politicians over the last five decades has only made things worse — much much worse.

It’s time for the bishops to come up with a formal process to deal with this problem, whether based on Canon 1398 or a new canon law that directly touches on the issue. That process should be just, provide opportunities for mercy and conversion, but make it clear that embracing the culture of death means making a choice to leave the communion of the Catholic Church. That’s not “bullying” — it’s accountability, especially in Cuomo’s case.

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