New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pictured emerging from an Albany Catholic mass in a large York Times article last week, shouldn't receive Communion because he openly lives with TV foodie Sandra Lee without marriage, a papal consultant insists. Cuomo's cohabitation is "public concubinage," the Detroit canonical expert decreed.
The Governor responded that his religion is a private matter "and not something I discuss in a public arena." He may not discuss it, but his actions make it public--and that makes a difference.
Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Edward N. Peters, appointed as a consultant to the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura court, says communion for the governor is contrary to Canon Law. "The governor, with complete freedom, is publicly acting in violation of a fundamental moral expectation of the church," Dr. Peters explained to Cybercast News Service.
Subsequent coverage has suggested the remarks are retaliatory for the Governor's desire to slash funds for Catholic education, or because of his divorce, or his views on abortion. Widespread comment seems to be divided as to whether the governor should be turned away from communion or not.
The avuncular Msgr. Hilary Franco of St. Augustine's Parish in Ossining, appearing on Good Day New York, said he'd personally deny the governor communion but couldn't rule out that the state leader had, in confession, promised to "live like brother and sister" with the Food Network celebrity, thus allowing him to come with the required "clean heart and clean soul" to receive the Eucharist.
This topic is of interest because Jewish tradition places enormous emphasis on the difference between deeds done in public, and those committed behind closed doors. Biblically, public sexual performers Zimri and Kozby got speared through by Pinchas (Phineas) because of their behavior (Numbers 25:10-30:10). Debate about whether the killings were justified were settled when God awarded Pinchas both the priesthood and the "covenant of peace." Murder is obviously not acceptable, and normally, misdeeds would be adjudicated by a Jewish court--but Pinchas gets two big prizes for his quick action because the Midianite woman and her Israelite lover were trysting at the gate of the Tent of the Meeting. Their flagrant public flaunting demanded immediate response.
Every day in morning prayers, Jews remind themselves to "always be fearing of Heaven, both privately and publicly, acknowledging the truth, speaking the truth within his heart..." The point is consistency. Jewish laws provide for punishments of differing strengths depending on whether transgressions are public or private--with just about every private transgression without physical harm left up to God to punish.
Unlikely brother-sister relationship aside, are we to ignore the Governor and Miss Lee shacking-up? Have we learned post-Bill Clinton that "just sex" is private and therefore
carries no consequence? For the most part, apparently yes. Reproval for non-marital sex in the current culture is low. But it's of major import concerning the Governor's fitness for the sacrament, because the Church sets the rules.
And in this case, his visible disregard of Church standards, while leader of the State of New York, puts Gov. Cuomo in a grandly public position. Is his religion private, as Gov. Cuomo claims? His relationship with God, certainly; but his receiving the Host at mass is a matter of public church standards.
That's why I don't consider it so outrageous that Dr. Peters suggests the governor "refrain" from taking communion, given his knowledge of Canon Law 915 and a great deal of other Catholic legal rules. This is not an issue about welcoming sinners to church, or knowing what's in anybody's heart, or making any kind of interpretations on a personal level. This is about blatant, public violations of Canon Law by a Catholic constantly in the news.
And I suspect that's what makes this so controversial. Too many people want to separate public actions in the sexual sphere from other types of public actions. Dr. Peters' pronouncement is uncomfortable because it reinforces restrictions, guilt and morals, which many consider outmoded and inappropriate nowadays, regarding sex.
As an outsider who happened to pick up the newspaper, it appears to me that the Church seeks to be refreshingly open and clear, rather than in select cases wink and look away.