Those of you who follow our occasional excurses into the farther reams of Catholic inside baseball probably enjoyed ’Puter’s cri de coeur against canon lawyer Ed Peters’ complaint that New York governor Andrew Cuomo is admitted to Communion by his bishop despite public sins that are ordinarily black-letter disqualifying.
’Puter’s argument is that Cuomo’s living with a woman is a private arrangement and therefore any pastoral action the bishop would take should also be private. Further, that shacking up isn’t as bad arguing for abortion (though he’d surely cede the point that it is possible for something to be morally illicit that isn’t as bad as some other illicitness). Last, that if Cuomo had argued for abortion, ’Puter would be on him like graft on a Chicago alderman. And, finally that Peters’ alleged call for a public condemnation of Cuomo is way, way outta line (And one kind of gets the sense that ’Puter’s worried it’ll cause a shandeh for de goyim that the Church would come out and condemn shack-uppery qua shack-uppery which would be totally retrograde these days).
However, as written in to the Volgi by a lay Catholic operative, it should be noted that Peters was not out issuing press releases. He, an expert on canon law, was asked a question in an interview.
His gist is not that Cuomo, quietly cohabiting in obscure, private anonymity, is in need of public condemnation. Indeed, it’s not with Cuomo at all. It’s with his bishop who is violating canon law (canon 915 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law) by admitting Cuomo to the Eucharist when he’s in a state of serious, public sin, thus spreading confusion and “scandal” (i.e., violating moral norms in a way that can lead others astray). Canon 915 does not pertain to the communicant but to the minister of communion who is forbidden to give communion to people who are known to be publicly sinning gravely by the Church’s standards.
If one reads what Peters said, he makes the points that:
- Governor Cuomo attended a bishop’s Mass at the cathedral accompanied by his cohabitee, Sandra Lee, (and his daughters) and sat in the front row. Contra ’Puter, I’d argue that if this isn’t flaunting the relationship, it’s certainly not an argument that Gov. Cuomo is keeping his arrangments private—or even discreet.
- It is the case that ‘public concubinage’ is expressly prohibited by canon law. The definition is openly living in a sexual relationship with a person to whom one is not married. Whether this would pertain to Joe Shlobotnik and his lovely slam piece Verna who don’t don’t advertise their unmarriedness and whose marital status most people aren’t aware of, is a different discussion. They’re “living in sin,” but they’re not necessarily giving public scandal. Cuomo and his famous-in-her-own-right inamorata are well-known to be divorced and well-known to be cohabiting. They live on ’Puter’s dime in the governor’s mansion and sit in the front row of the cathedral and have the bishop wish them well. Public, yes? And according to the Catechism (§2390), grave and “excludes one from sacramental communion.”
- ’Puter errs in saying that Cuomo hasn’t advocated for abortion rights publically. As Peters notes, in the governor’s campaign book Andrew Cuomo: The New NY Plan of Action, Cuomo not only defends abortion rights (and lobbies for the passage of “The Reproductive Rights Act”) but promotes gay marriage. While these are legitimate political positions held by millions of people of good faith, it remains the case, as ’Puter is wont to note to his Catholic-college buddies, that the Catholic Church has deemed these (and a few others) gravely sinful to advocate. By this advocacy alone, Governor Cuomo has potentially removed himself from communion with the Church, though as Peters says, one would have to investigate this carefully in a canon-legal context.
- Despite that and this—not some call for the bishop to condemn Cuomo—is the crux of Peters’ complaint, that bishop admits Cuomo to communion when he’s actually forbidden to under canon law.
’Puter’s right that the bishop has a private pastoral duty. But, whatever the bishop’s private measures, all indications are he can’t licitly give Cuomo communion under canon 915.
In conclusion, ’Puter’s right to the extent that the issue of pastoral care is up to a bishop and should generally be private. However, ’Puter errs in saying that Cuomo’s conduct does not rise to the level which would bar him from communion, simply in points of fact (first, “public concubinage” giving scandal—including to his children; second, as neither his nor his lover’s previous marriages were annulled, adultery, which ’Puter will remember used to be called a “mortal sin;” and last, of course, the political advocacy of what are still called grave sins).
Pace ’Puter and the good ladies of The View, Peters is simply not “wrong. Really wrong. Damagingly wrong.” He’s right on the plain meaning of the canon in question. And, while it may be bad P.R. for an institution to publicly condemn what have become nigh-universal mores, it doesn’t make other members of the institution wrong for pointing out the institution’s violating its own rules.
Which, in this case, bar the minister of Communion from giving communion to those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” (915) It’s pretty well established that the Governor’s sin is manifest, and canonically they’re grave. ’Puter can (and probably will) argue that it depends on what the definition of “obstinately persist” is and whether it obstinately persists.
But, whatever Ed Peters, the Volgi, Ghettoputer, or any of us think of the rightness or wrongness of Gov. Cuomo’s living arrangements, they appear to violate the norms of his church. His bishop therefore seems to be required to enforce those norms, which means his ministers of the Eucharist are canonically enjoined from presenting the sacrament to him out of concern for his immortal soul. It’s not like Cuomo would be thrown out of the cathedral onto the sidewalk, it’s not like the bishop is required thunder fire and brimstone at him, it’s not that Cuomo has to be admonished publicly; it’s just that if he goes up to the front of the church (which he shouldn’t do, as ’Puter notes), he can’t licitly be given the sacrament. The bishop (or the priest or extraordinary [lay] minister under the bishop’s jurisdiction) can do this with complete discretion.
Those four Gormogon readers who have made it this far can decide for themselves whether Peters’ pointing this out is a huge, damaging scandal (in the modern sense of the world) for the Church, and even if so, if Peters is wrong to do so.