A Tale of Two Cuomos

January 22, 2014 | 18 comments

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made news last week when during a radio interview he said “extreme conservatives” have “no place” in the Empire State. Who are these people? Among others, he said, those who are “right to life” or “anti-gay.”

Later he tried to walk back this naked and nasty bit of intolerance, reassuring us that those who are “anti-choice” (one presumes he got a tongue-lashing from NARAL for saying “right to life” the first time) could stay in New York after all. But that bell, as the saying goes, can’t be un-rung.

Catholics, of course, are “right to life” inasmuch as they’re Catholics. And although “anti-gay,” like “anti-choice,” is a vague and tendentious expression, today it comprises those who oppose the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Catholics aren’t “anti-gay” in the sense of bearing animus towards persons with same-sex attraction—or shouldn’t be, anyway—but if they assent to the teaching of their religion, which asserts a natural and non-negotiable purpose to the body, to sex, and to marriage, they must wear that label, too.

Conclusion? The Catholic governor of one of our most populous and influential states, a rising star in his party and future national-stage player, has declared that Catholics who are Catholic do not meet the citizenship test.

It’s sad, but also fitting, that Cuomo should be the son of Mario Cuomo, the Catholic former NY governor and presidential candidate who, in an infamous speech at Notre Dame in 1984, blazed a false trail of conscience for politicians (and by extension, voters) who claim to be personally pro-life but publicly pro-abortion. In it he applied to abortion the principle that JFK had established two decades earlier when he promised that, because of his “absolute” separation of Church and state, his Catholicism would not inform his politics. In this brilliant and elegant piece of rhetoric Cuomo anticipates, echoes, or invents most of the now-familiar tropes of Catholic pro-abortion politics:

•    That despite his personal acceptance of Church teaching on abortion and his belief that human life is due “reverence,” he cannot force these “religious values” on a pluralistic society.

•    That to be pro-life is every bit as much about opposing nuclear weapons (hey, it was the ‘80s), world hunger, and unemployment as it is about stopping abortion.

•    That an effective pro-life strategy must focus on diminishing abortion’s root causes, and on improving social welfare, rather than on pro-natal legislation.

•    That the Church’s historical speculations about the inception of human life in the womb may provide Catholics mental wiggle room for prudential judgments about abortion policy.

•    That the “complexity” of the abortion issue forces us to eschew absolute judgments and solutions. (It’s above all our pay grades.)

Cuomo concluded by observing that American Catholics had left the “ghetto” (he doesn’t reference Kennedy, but the connection is clear) and that a challenge now lay before them:

The Catholic Church has come of age in America. . . . This newfound status is both an opportunity and a temptation. If we choose, we can give in to the temptation to become more and more assimilated into a larger, blander culture, abandoning the practice of the specific values that made us different, worshipping whatever gods the marketplace has to sell while we seek to rationalize our own laxity by urging the political system to legislate on others a morality we no longer practice ourselves.

Or we can remember where we come from, the journey of two millennia, clinging to our personal faith, to its insistence on constancy and service and on hope. 

Here Cuomo warns, with florid language that masks his illogic, that for Catholics to fail to keep their faith “personal” (by imposing it politically through pro-life laws) would represent a selling-out to the world, substituting a tarnished and legalistic public morality for the pure (and purely internal) observance of God’s laws “in our hearts and minds.” The end result of this failure would be “assimilation” and loss of identity.

Now flash forward thirty years. Mario Cuomo got his wish. Catholics did not (or failed to) impose on larger society their personal religious beliefs about abortion. The red herrings he espoused—the seamless garment, the “root cause” argument, the supremacy of personal conscience—have become dicta. By his prediction, American Catholics should today be a “light to the nation . . . leading people to truth by love.”

So what has come to pass?

Our president is the most foursquare pro-abortion occupant of the White House ever. His vice-president, the Catholic Joe Biden, shows everyone how far Catholics have come out of the ghetto with an unimpeachable history of carrying water for the abortion lobby. The most powerful woman in Congress, the Catholic Nancy Pelosi, cites St. Augustine to justify her abortion advocacy. Our secretary of state, the Catholic John Kerry, references the Bible to justify his. The Catholic Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, spearheads the government’s effort to coerce Catholics and Catholic institutions into moral cooperation with evil.

We got our assimilation, all right; the disease was mistaken for the cure.

And then there’s Andrew Cuomo, truly his father’s spiritual as well as physical son, taking Mario’s ideas to their next logical step. Our "light to the nation" is no longer welcome in New York.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn, pray for us.


Todd Aglialoro is the director of publishing for Catholic Answers Press. He studied theology at Franciscan University, the University of Fribourg, and the International Theological Institute. A New York native, Todd now lives in the San Diego area with his wife, seven children, and zero dogs.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Armando Sandoval - Peralta, New Mexico

You hit the nail on the head!!!!

January 22, 2014 at 7:11 pm PST
#2  Elise Arbow - Des Moines, Washington

Completely agree with you! New York Catholics--where are you?
Why aren't you mad about your governor saying these things?

January 22, 2014 at 9:29 pm PST
#3  Sharon Whitlock - Rockford, Illinois

But...a majority of Catholics voted for Barack Obama, not just once, but twice, for President of the United States. This means, of course, that by proxy, they also voted for his Vice Pres., along with his Cabinet choices.

The explanation that I heard most often back then is that war is a greater evil than abortion, and Barack Obama had pledged to stop the wars, or at least bring U.S. troops home.

And a majority of Catholics are still proud to admit that they voted for Pres. Obama and his entourage. They point to the Affordable Health Care Act as just one piece of evidence that this President practices Christian principles and has helped millions of the poor in our country. And they praise the fact that he is gradually ending U.S. involvement in the Middle East wars.

IMO, the information that the bishops published and distributed to parishes was vague and confusing. The wording was so wishy- washy and uber-polite that non-discerning Catholics with an agenda could easily make the assumption that it's OK to vote for a candidate as long as he/she was anti-abortion but pro-choice (Cuomo's position).

Also, a lot of Catholics expressed disdain (and still express disdain) for the bishops and their writings, citing the "sex scandals". Of course, I believe that the media has mis-stated a lot of this "scandal," but there are certain incidents that are indisputable. I have to admit, I can understand why it is difficult to trust people who have betrayed trust in the past.

And finally, I think a lot of people in the U.S. simply refuse to submit to ANY authority, including their Church. We treasure our independence a little too much.

I realize that my comments are harsh towards our apostles, but I think I'm describing reality in the United States for the Catholic Church, and that we all need to deal with it.

January 23, 2014 at 5:48 am PST
#4  Steven Way - Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

It seems that whatever the Catholic Church says in an intrinsic evil the Pro-Abortion politicians and voters want to make extra sure to call it a right. They don't want their religion to influence their decision making with regard to moral non-negotiables such as abortion and marriage, but they contradict themselves by using their religion to rally for immigration amnesty and against capital punishment for murderers. Jesus said that we can't serve two masters without hating one of them. And, from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's comments, it's clear which master he hates.

January 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm PST
#5  Ron Arnold - Lexington, South Carolina

I am 49 years old and am just now joining the catholic church. I would consider myself to have always been one of the Bible Christians, one thing that has always troubled me about catholics and that is how do you vote for a democrat and practice catholisizm? I do not understand why the church does not publicly denounce these polititions when they inject their catholic faith to promote evil?

January 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm PST
#6  Tom Diebold - Shelby, Michigan

". . . because of his [Mario Cuomo's] 'absolute' separation of Church and state, his Catholicism would not inform his politics."

This principle, selectively imposed on Catholics in the area of abortion and sexual ethics, is never applied equally to economic issues and the size/role of government. It is merely a principle of convenience, applied inconsistently.

For Catholics of the left, their view of what is moral in the economic realm, solidly based on their Catholicism, forms the foundation of their politics. Why did so many Catholics vote for Barack Obama? Because his politics matched their religious view of morality with regard to the economic role of the government in society.

January 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm PST
#7  Ron Arnold - Lexington, South Carolina

I do not understand your statement, under this president the poor have gotten poorer and the rich have gotten richer. he has given billions of dollars to failed green companies and gotten us into more armed conflicts. Sure we now have millions more people on food stamps and welfare but I do not see that as helpful, that only enslaves people. by design food stamps and welfare are meant to keep people enrolled and they become permenant wards of the state (slaves) or (votes) with no quality of life.

January 23, 2014 at 7:14 pm PST
#8  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Tom: I'd be interested in seeing your evidence and arguments for the claim that Catholics who vote for liberal politicians do so because they're following the teachings of the Church. I think that's a debatable point.

But even stipulating to it for the sake of argument, I'd say you're making the same (specious) argument that Mario Cuomo did in 1984. Some Catholic principles, he said, do not translate into clear policy choices and thus leave room for pragmatic application—and abortion is one of these.

But you both conflate Church teachings on economics and social justice—which not only do not call for particular policy applications but in many instances (eg Rerum Novarum) expressly deny that they're sufficient in themselves to specify such applications—with Catholic teaching on abortion, which is a a simple matter of natural justice with only one endgame: abolition.

There is no licit "pragmatic application" of Catholic teaching on abortion that concludes with the ongoing legality or practice of abortion. In contrast there are many licit applications of Catholic principles on economics and social justice that can conclude with different levels of taxation, different kinds of welfare states, different levels of government power and coercion, different levels of market regulation, and on and on.

There's no one Catholic solution to the economy; indeed, there's a huge variety of defensible pragmatic approaches that can be plausibly called just (if not all of them effective!). But there's only one Catholic solution to the injustice of abortion, just as there is only one Catholic solution to the injustice of theft, rape, genocide, etc.

January 24, 2014 at 10:26 am PST
#9  Tom Diebold - Shelby, Michigan

Todd, my point, which I evidently didn't make clearly enough, is that many Catholics who vote Democrat vote this way precisely because of their own, PERSONAL view of the relationship between Catholic teaching and the role of government in society and economic justice. This is not necessarily an accurate reflection of what the Church teaches, but many liberal Catholics believe, and act on that belief, as if it was.

Ultimately, my point was that "conservative" Catholics are openly criticized when they try to use religious belief as a basis for political positions on abortion, contraception, gay marriage and other sexual ethics -- criticism that is explicitly based on the wall-of-separation-of-church-and-state argument -- while many "liberal" Catholics use their religious views as the very basis to support their political positions, when it comes to economic issues and social justice. There is a double standard.

And I agree completely that there is no necessary connection between Catholic teaching and the pragmatic approaches to alleviating economic injustice. But many progressive Catholics believe that there is a direct connection, one that strongly favors the expansion of government, and that opinion influences their political choices.

I apologize for the lack of clarity.

January 24, 2014 at 3:36 pm PST
#10  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Thanks for the clarification, Tom. Two things:

1. I'd still like to see evidence that Catholic Obama-voters (to use your example) are explicitly motivated by (what they believe to be) Catholic teaching. They could be voting out of motives unrelated to their religion; and, based on what I anecdotally take to be their level of knowledge of and fidelity to Church teaching, I suspect most do.

By the same token I'd agree that, in the United States anyway, many Catholics habitually tend to view statist policies as the more authentic expression of Catholic social teaching. But my instinct is that this (now waning) tendency is incidental to their voting habits, not determinant for them. Could be wrong.

2. Criticism of pro-life politicians on separation-of-church-and-state grounds would be stronger if they offered only sectarian religious (rather than natural) reasons for their policy preferences. But we know that it's completely defensible to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage without recourse to religious authority.

On the other side, this is even more the case. I can think of few religious progressives who make explicit religious appeals in defense of *their* policy. (The cynic in me says that when politicians on the ever-more-secular left mention God or the Bible, they do it for show rather than out of conviction.) Instead they appeal to fairness, equality, patriotism, compassion, what have you.

So, although it's true that the right gets more flack for mixing church and state, I can't get too worked up about a double standard (except, maybe, for liberal politicians' bold use of minority churches for their politicking) because I think it's true to say that more politicians on the right—especially Evangelicals—DO really want to build policy on their faith.

January 24, 2014 at 4:26 pm PST
#11  Tom Diebold - Shelby, Michigan

Todd, thanks for your response.

On your first point, I have no data, just long, personal experience with many progressive Catholics who are quite critical of conservatives who even suggest a religious basis for their political positions, who then immediately turn around and launch into a defense of their own progressive political positions, largely from their own religious views. Happens all the time. But, you're right, that is not data, just my personal experience. It would be interesting to see if there is any existing polling exploring the basis for voting . . . poll Catholics as to why they vote the way the do, and explore, in some detail, the religious basis for their voting. The poll questions would have to be designed to explore that specific idea.

On your second point, progressives may not talk as if their political positions derive from their religious beliefs, but I think that, for many of them, they do. That is the double standard I spoke of . . . conservatives are discouraged from using any religious standard, while many progressives themselves use a religious standard, although not always explicitly.

I think most of us, whether conservative or progressive, and whether we explicitly acknowledge it or not, want, to some extent, to build the culture and social/political policy, within American constitutional guidelines, on our faith. At least I would certainly hope so.

January 24, 2014 at 4:58 pm PST
#12  Philip Boese - Albuquerque, New Mexico

Voting in American federal elections is indeed problematic for Catholics today. Neither party adequately represents our values and beliefs. In fact, both parties represent policies that most Americans should find abhorrent: neverending needless foreign wars, ever growing income and wealth disparity and neglect of the poor. So no matter who you vote for, whether Obama or McCain or Romney or Bush or Hillary or Rand Paul, you are voting to continue the preferential option for the wealthy, the opposite of Church teaching. Of course, these powers that be have rigged the system to prevent a meaningful challenge from a third party, especially in their rules for who may participate in the televised 'debates'. Perhaps the best we can do is continually communicate to our representatives our views on the issues and then work for reform. The best reform I know of is getting money out of politics, and the people at www.represent.us are working hard to return power to the voters rather than the billionaires.

January 26, 2014 at 11:06 am PST
#13  Steven Way - Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio


The two major American political parties are the same on every negotiable issue. But, on the "hot button issues" of abortion and so-called same-sex "marriage", things which the Church says are always and everywhere intrinsic evils, the two major political parties, with rare internal dissension, are polar opposites. The Republicans aren't perfect, but they can be called "the lesser of the two evils", and we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pope John Paul II made this point when dealing with the issue of how to vote Pro-Life in an imperfect world when he said:

"A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects." - Evangelium Vitae

As far as third parties:

1) The Church doesn't require us to vote third party, and no issue is so grave as to disqualify the Republican party from consideration.
2) Third parties have zero chance of winning in a US presidential election.
3) Third parties aren't perfect either.

January 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm PST
#14  John Prejean - Silver City, New Mexico

I think that we need to remind ourselves or ask ourselves the question, "Where is Jesus Christ?" "Where does he live?" The answer of course is within us. I use this reminder everyday to live my life as Christ did. Am I always successful? Not by any means but that does not mean that I quit trying. So with that question and answer, whatever we do wrong, we are making Jesus do it as well. Doesn't sit well in our stomachs when we think of it that way does it and it shouldn't sit well with us. We know what is right and what is wrong yet God gave us free will to make those decisions.

This Governor knows exactly what is right and what is wrong but has chosen to be of "the world." He is not the only one and we know this. Look at some of the prior comments that comment on how many Catholics voted for President Obama not once, but TWICE!

The third comment by Sharron Whitlock said towards the end: "I realize that my comments are harsh towards our apostles, but I think I'm describing reality in the United States for the Catholic Church, and that we all need to deal with it."

Now I'm not going to assume what she meant by this comment however I will say that she is right by saying that we need to "deal with it." The way that we deal with it however is key.

We have one goal here on earth and that is to get to Heaven and to make sure others get to Heaven. We do this by living our faith out as Jesus asks us to do. We do this by educating those who do not know they are doing wrong, those who do not know the teachings of Christ, and those who fall into or use the excuse of ignorance towards their wrong doing.

One just ONE mortal sin is all it takes to send us to hell. Am I saying that voting for Obama or any other politician is a mortal sin? I can not make that claim however, I couldn't and refuse to vote for somebody knowing that they are pro-abortion, or against traditional marriage and that is my God given right to do just as it it for someone to vote for them. But why would you vote for someone or a law that goes against your Catholic teachings and against your moral views?

Somebody else stated in their comments that the bishops where a little bit to kind when putting out information in regards to the Catholic vote. I agree and I feel that this is our opportunity to educate our brothers and sisters and guide them towards the right goal. We should also let our bishops know how we feel. If you see something wrong being done and don't do anything about it, you are part of the problem and not the solution. We can't solve every problem but it shouldn't stop us from trying.

IMO what our world needs now and I know it will sound cliche and that is prayer. We need to pray and then pray some more. I encourage all to pray the Holy Rosary and to do so asking our Holy Mother Mary to intercede for us and take our petitions up to God to help us during these trying times. Our world is one scary place right now but it does not mean we can't turn things around.

In closing, I would like to say, quit fighting with each other fellow Catholic brothers and sisters. I see this quite a bit where I live. I live in a small ****** where we are blessed to have 5 Catholic Churches within a 15 mile radius and each one seems to be pitted against the other like a silly high school rivalry. STOP IT! We are all in the same fight against evil and should be using our energy to fight evil, not each other. God Bless.

January 29, 2014 at 8:50 am PST
#15  John Prejean - Silver City, New Mexico

I don't know why it blocked it out but the ***** should say "******"

January 29, 2014 at 8:55 am PST
#16  John Prejean - Silver City, New Mexico


January 29, 2014 at 8:55 am PST
#17  Frank DiGiacomo - Newnan, Georgia

He is as useless as his father was

January 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm PST
#18  Lewelyn Fidler - Lehi, Utah

Church and State, Quiz where does it "anywhere" mentioned anything about this concept.......?

No Where in the Constitution mentions the "separation of CHURCH and State, impact it the opposite! Take a real hard look into those documents both of the them, there fun of "Christian" values and Morals. Almost all of them (founders) came from deep religious roots, the original settlers some 400 years ago why did they came here....Freedom's, freedom to worship upon their own dictates....

We want/Need moral people in office BUT by golly do not want the Government doing the Moralizing

When we (Americans) fail to really pay attemtion to the politicians and fail to do our DUTY then do not cry when "Moralitizating" politicians do get into office thus changing the rules

February 11, 2014 at 2:55 am PST

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