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.