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This is the blog of the faculty of the Ave Maria University Philosophy Department. We post our philosophical reflections on perennial and contemporary questions as well as on Departmental and University news and other topics of interest.
  • June 22, 2013 11:43 am

    Cardinal Dolan’s open letter to Andrew Cuomo

    Before I speak about Cardinal Dolan and Governor Cuomo, I would like to comment on another story that has already received plenty of coverage. This other story has some bearing, I believe, on the cardinal and the governor.

    Four days ago Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, published an open letter to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader of the House, who represents California’s 12th congressional district (basically a part of the county of San Francisco). In the letter Fr. Pavone criticizes Mrs. Pelosi for her recent remarks in response to a reporter’s question about themoral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did to a baby born alive at 23 weeks and aborting her moments before birth.”

    Pelosi’s response was a combination of stonewalling and virtually unintelligible defense (Was it defense or mindless babble? It’s really hard to tell.) of her consistent pro-abortion position. But in all her rambling she never answered the reporter’s question.

    At one point Pelosi said to him: “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this. I don’t think it should have anything to do with politics.” Now, if by “sacred ground” she meant the abortion question, then how does she explain her pro-abortion voting record? If voting for or against legislation as an elected public official does not constitute political activity, I’m not quite sure what does.

    Well, Fr. Pavone is fed up. For him — and, I would say, for all thinking and faithful Catholics — you cannot be a Catholic and publicly support things, such as abortion, that the Church has time and again condemned as immoral.

    Pavone sees the latest episode as par for the course for Pelosi. So, he has delivered her an ultimatum:

    Mrs. Pelosi, for decades you have gotten away with betraying and misrepresenting the Catholic faith as well as the responsibilities of public office. We have had enough of it. Either exercise your duties as a public servant and a Catholic, or have the honesty to formally renounce them.

    I agree. The charity Fr. Pavone is exercising toward Mrs. Pelosi is exemplary. Yet there are people who might wonder whether Pavone should not have said this to her privately rather than publicly. Would that not have been the more Christian thing to do? Perhaps if Pelosi’s actions had not taken place on a national stage — and for years — private admonishment would have been appropriate. But consistent public gestures like Pelosi’s call for a public response. Public scandal of this sort needs a public rebuke. Failure of Catholics, especially of those who have a special duty to teach and govern, to admonish publicly Catholics who consistently flaunt Church teaching for all to see, is, in a sense, just as much a scandal and terribly uncharitable. Moreover, it should not be be regarded as simply a personal matter between, say, a bishop and the public figure when that figure, by his or her conduct, is misleading many Catholics who are not properly instructed about their faith.

    Now the title of this post promises something about an open letter of Cardinal Dolan to Governor Cuomo of New York. I must confess that this was a bit of a ruse because I am not aware that Cardinal Dolan has written such a letter, that is, not of the ultimatum variety à la Fr. Pavone (— this January 19 letter is a different genre). But, as is well-known, Cuomo, a Catholic, has regularly and publicly supported things like gay “marriage” and abortion. We heard not long ago from New York archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling that although his boss appeared to suggest in a May 14 radio interview that he has been tough on the governor in private, “Cardinal Dolan would not, and did not, suggest the governor might not be a Catholic in good standing going forward.” The equivocation in this statement is worthy of Jay Carney.

    Dare we hope that Cardinal Dolan will be inspired by Fr. Pavone’s open letter to Mrs. Pelosi to write a similar letter to Mr. Cuomo? Some people might say that it would be more appropriate for it to come from the bishop of Albany Howard Hubbard. However, I think that Dolan and Cuomo are more linked in the public eye than Hubbard and Cuomo despite the fact that, as governor, the latter resides in the state capital and, hence, under the jurisdiction of the former. But I would not be against the bishop and the cardinal both writing letters. In fact, I would not mind an open letter to Cuomo from every bishop in the United States. We’ll see who has the courage, the sense of duty — indeed the caritas — to do it.

    Then, of course, there are Joe Biden, John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius…


    Post scriptum: I do not wish to say in the above commentary — as should be evident — that private dialogue to persuade dissenters is never appropriate. I think it often is even when it has to do with public actions or statements. The course taken is a matter of prudence. But with people like Pelosi, Cuomo, et al., who have for so long been public dissenters and have shown no clear signs of changing, I think all prudent people will agree that the time for private dialogue is well passed.