The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Cuomo: “God is not a celestial party chairman”

Another high profile Catholic politician — and one who is no stranger to clashing with bishops — has added his two cents to the Kennedy-Tobin debate:

mario_cuomo_2.jpgFormer New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said Sunday that church leaders should be cautious about pressuring Catholic politicians over issues such as abortion because people might not vote for someone they think is guided by religion.


Cuomo’s comments came as Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy sparred with a bishop over his public stance on moral issues including abortion. Kennedy said Bishop Thomas Tobin has asked him not to receive communion.

In a 1984 speech, Cuomo, a Catholic and Democrat who supported abortion rights and was at the time a leading potential presidential candidate, delivered a speech at the University of Notre Dame explaining that Catholic lawmakers shouldn’t be pressured by church leaders to work for anti-abortion legislation.

“The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman,” he said then.

On Sunday, he said it’s dangerous for the church to pressure politicians because of the potential for unintended consequences.


“If you’re required (by the church) to make everybody follow your Catholic role, then nobody would vote for Catholics because it’s clear that when you get the authority, you’re going to be guided by your faith,” the former governor told The Associated Press.

Cuomo said there are two positions a politician can take: They can oppose church doctrine outright or, as he did, accept church teachings personally but refuse to carry them into the public arena where they would affect people of every faith.

“Don’t ask me to make everybody live by it because they are not members of the church,” Cuomo said. “If that were the operative rule, how could you get any Catholic politician in office? And would that be better for the Catholic church?”


Cuomo, who in 1984 had just delivered a soaring speech at the Democratic National Convention that vaulted him to the top of the list of future presidential candidates, said he understands why church leaders target a high-profile officeholder such as Kennedy.

“I think the bishops would say, ‘Yeah, the better known the name, the more effective what I’m trying to do here,'” Cuomo said.

Still, he thinks there are more bishops around the country who have declined to call out politicians than those, like Tobin, who have. He wouldn’t say which is the better path.

“Not for me to tell a bishop what to do,” he said.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 1:30 am

Cuomo is abolutely right. He and I are both old enough to remember when JFK was elected the first Roman Catholic president. It was a very big deal. People feared that RC elected officials would need to answer to the Pope and the church hierarcy.
I really wonder if the Catholic church is trying to self-destruct.

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Mr Flapatap

posted November 23, 2009 at 5:44 am

“Catholic lawmakers shouldn’t be pressured by church leaders to work for anti-abortion legislation”
He could (almost) get away with the above stament if it were a true premise. The reality is that many of these politicians, including Mr. Cuomo are the most rabid fomenters of pro abortion legislation seeking to impose the most radical abortion laws.

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Padre Paddy Wagon

posted November 23, 2009 at 8:12 am

Instead of “Saint” Mario’s comments, why not consider a real Catholic Democrat, the late Governor Bob Casey, he was the real Catholic who was denied speaking to the Democratic National Convention because of his support of the sanctity of life. Unlike “Saint” Mario he did not try to weasel his way out of protecting human life. Abortion is a human rights issue not just a Catholic issue, Cuomo, Kennedy et al are nothing more than quisling Catholics.
Address by the late Governor Robert P. Casey
Delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 1995
Jeff, thank you very much for those kind words, very generous indeed. I am grateful. Thank you as well to everyone in this audience who came here this evening for this program. It’s great to be back here at Notre Dame. I was here almost two years ago at my son Matt’s graduation in May of 1993. And I received at that time an honorary degree from this great institution. I’ve said it many times since and I will day it again tonight: that was probably my proudest moment as a father and as one who has been an admirer of this great institution for my entire life. The honorary degree, and the citation that accompanied it, are among my most treasured and prized possessions. It means a great deal to me, this institution – its traditions, its value system – and to come back here again almost two years later is a source of great joy and pride, to be with you this evening.
My thanks to the Notre Dame family: to Father Malloy, for his many kindnesses to me and to my family over the years; to Father Hesburgh, for his assistance and his interest and friendship. I thank Father Tim Scully and Father Bill Miscamble for their warm friendship and their strong support and the encouragement they have extended to me and my family through some difficult days during the course of that family history. To my classmate, Professor Charles Rice, who is here this evening with Mrs. Rice. We were classmates at Holy Cross about a hundred years ago, I guess. But it’s a delight to see him here and I have admired and been inspired by his witness and his strong commitment to the cause of the unborn child as well as other causes that are so central to the mission and the challenge of America. My thanks to all the sponsoring organizations that Jeff mentioned, and to Jeff and to all members of the student body – the leaders who are here with us tonight – who were instrumental in making this evening possible. To all of you, I am grateful to have this chance once again to meet with you and talk about something I think is very important to our country.
I would like to begin with the mission statement of Notre Dame itself, which says, and I quote: “The University is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.” It continues, and I quote, “The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” Let me read that again. “The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” I would like to explore tonight with you for a few moments how the words of this mission statement find contemporary application in the current debate across our country on the subject of human life.
But, first, some personal background about me that you may not know. I come from a long line of Democrats. My father and grandfather, all the Caseys, were Democrats as far back as the eye can see. Most of them worked in the anthracite coal mines near Scranton, Pennsylvania. my great grandfather came here in 1851. He came because, like to so many who came at that time and since, America was the land of the second chance. we didn’t turn immigrants away in this country. But, often the welcome extended just beyond our shores. And so, when the sights in the windows said “No Irish Need Apply,” my grandfather and my father, and his brothers and sisters, and their sons and daughters, joined the Democratic Party. They were true believers … and they were powerless. They heard in the voice of the Democratic Party the voice of their country, a voice at once both strong and compassionate. Like so many of his time, my father lived a life of unromantic struggle. At the age of ten, he started working in those mines. he was orphaned at 15. It’s such a familiar story. It’s replicated in families throughout this room here this evening. At 15, he began to support five brothers and sisters while working his way through high school. He pressed on further, studying law in New York City at Fordham University – without a college degree, I might add. he passed the bar exam and became an attorney in his late thirty’s far behind his contemporaries.
His story was a story of quiet triumphs, character, and determination rooted in a powerful sense of personal responsibility. Like so many Americans of that day, and of this day, “he pulled himself up by his boot-straps,” as they say. It’s a story familiar to generations of Americans. It’s an American story. And there was a reason why such men and women gravitated to the Democratic Party. I would put it very simply: the Party claimed their allegiance because it understood their struggles. So, this was the Party I grew up with. A party of optimistic people, because they knew grief. A party of strong people, because they understood vulnerability. It was a party dedicated to defending the weak; to helping the dispossessed; to welcoming the stranger. Let the other parties look to those at the plateaus and summits of life. We would look, in the words of Hubert Humphrey, to those in the shadows of life; those in the twilight of life; and those in the dawn of life.
If you survey the national scene today, a gnawing question keeps coming up. And that question is this: “What has happened to that resolve, that sense of shared purpose, those noble struggles?” I cannot claim to bring any special expertise, any prophetic gifts to these cultural debates that rage around us. But I do know this: A nation is no different from a person in his need for fidelity to his calling. Fidelity to who he is, or she is. When a person turns from his vocation in spite of himself, it brings grief. No matter what comforts and distractions life offers, deep down he will always be uneasy. He will know that he is not being true to himself. And you know … America was born with a calling. It was the noblest destiny to which any society can be called. As George Weigel and other commentators of the day have said so eloquently, our has been, in this country, the story of inclusion, of extending rights and opportunities. Of raising up the powerless; of widening the circle of the commonly protected. Of acknowledging the duty, a sense of duty, for God and man – the common good that the mission statement talks about.
This was our common faith – our civil religion, if you will. And wars were fought in its name. We’ve always had political quarrels and disagreements. But these debates were mostly centered on how to achieve these noble ends, not on whether or not the ends were worthy in themselves. They were a dialogue – these quarrels – with destiny, but not a betrayal of it. And so, throughout our history – and we’re talking tonight in part about our history – throughout this history, people of all faiths, and people of no faith, have joined in great moral causes. All this too is part of the American story, the American experience that explains who we are from a historic point of view. It shows a diversity of belief, but a unity of moral purpose – a coming together, if you will, in conscience on these issues.
We must ask ourselves, “Where today does conscience call us?” What is the deepest source of the unease that’s documented in survey after survey across this country. It is deep, and it’s basic, and it’s powerful. I believe that a great majority of people in America know the answer to that question. The silent figure at the center of our great cultural debate is the unborn child. For a generation now – over twenty years – we’ve lived with abortion on demand. It was sold to America, this idea, as a kind of a social cure, a resolution. Instead, it has left us wounded and divided. We were promised it would broaden the circle of freedom. Instead, it has narrowed the circle of humanity. We were told the whole matter was settled and would soon pass from our minds. Twenty years later, it tears at our souls. And so, it is for me the bitterest of ironies that abortion on demand found refuge .. found a home – and it pains me to say this – found a home in the National Democratic Party. My party, the party of the weak, the party of the powerless.
You see, to me, protecting the unborn child follows naturally from everything I know about my party and about my country. Nothing could be more foreign to the American experience than legalized abortion. It is inconsistent with our national character, with our national purpose, with all that we’ve done, and with everything we hope to be.
You know, for eight years, I served as governor of Pennsylvania. All the problems that America confronts today, health care, the level of taxation, education, economic growth, crime, welfare, the environment – you name it, a state like Pennsylvania – we see it all. All these things are important, they’re very important. They concern the day to day business of government. They were my life for eight years. But, in the end, they are relative problems. And they demand relative solutions. They are about how we shall live as a people in America. Of course the economy is or urgent concern to everyone, and properly so – the issue of how we make our livelihood, how we pay our bills, how we invest for our future. But the need to protect the unborn child is just as urgent as the economic concerns that confront our country.
In the case of the unborn child we’re dealing not just with our livelihoods, but with lives… not just how comfortably we will live, but how comfortably we will live with our consciences. Think about it, why do all parties to this debate routinely call abortion a “social issue”? Because deep down we know that the fate of one life touches us all. In a way, all the talk about values misses the point. Because we are talking about a thing of infinite value. Human life cannot be measured. It is the measure itself. The value of everything else is weighed against it. The abortion debate is not about how we shall live, but who shall live. And more than that, it’s about who we are.
The fundamental question posed is this: once a child has been conceived, what is the proper response of a good society – of America at her best? If pregnancy presents a challenge, do we as a society rise to the challenge by dispensing with the child? And when a pregnancy comes at a difficult time, what is the worthier response? Do we surround mother and child with protection and love, or do we hold out to her the cold comfort of a trip to an abortionist? Where is our true character as a nation to be seen – let’s ask ourselves this question: Where is our true character to be seen, in an adoptive home, or in an abortion clinic? Who are we? Who are we America? That question deserves an answer. And what woman is truly empowered, I ask you, the woman who takes life, or the woman who gives life?
You know, I’ve asked this question before, but I must ask it again. Since when does America, the strongest, the most powerful country in the world, abandon in despair an entire class of people – the most defenseless, innocent, and vulnerable members of the human family? How can we justify with our experience in this country – our tradition, our heritage, our history – how can we justify writing off the unborn child in a country which prides itself on leaving no one out and no one behind?
You see, I believe the American people know the answer to these questions. They know that abortion is not worthy of a great nation. It’s like few other issues we’ve ever faced, when you think about it. Other causes demand commitment, abortion demands complicity. Other causes survive by energy and attention. The survival of the abortion industry – and it an industry – depends upon avoidance and silence. Look at our history. All the great causes have marched under proud banners and declaratory words that summon people to action. But this cause goes under eerie, elusive euphemisms; like “choice”. They talk about the “procedure” and they talk about “termination”. Antiseptic words. Words stripped of their humanity. Politically correct words that are, oh so careful not to be offensive. Other ages faced the tragedy of abortion, but at least they recognized it as a tragedy. Ours alone – and think about this – ours alone has dared to call it a “social good”. Ours alone has dared to call the victim a “thing”, the act a “service”, the perpetrator a “provider”. Ours alone has made abortion not only a right, but a lucrative industry. And what decent society can live with that?
But you know something, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction, in the direction of protection of life. The Freedom of Choice Act, that grand design that was to pass through the Congress with no problem, has failed. More than eighty-three percent of the counties, twenty-one years later, more than eighty-three percent of the counties in the United States have no abortion clinics, because people don’t want them there. Fewer and fewer medical schools are teaching abortion. Most doctors themselves want nothing to do with it. At the U.S. military bases overseas every military doctor in Europe and Asia, to a person, refused to participate in abortions. The signs are unmistakable, and they are signs, I think, that point to a very hopeful future. As far as the future is concerned, what do we do? We put our best hope, as we always have in America when faced by challenges of this kind, in the basic goodness and the basic common sense of the American people. No fine gloss on the issue, no hedging, no slick finesse, can shake America’s consensus of the heart. A consensus that grows every time someone looks in a sonogram.
You know, when you think about it, you can’t stifle this debate with a piece of paper. No edict, no federal mandate will put to rest the grave doubts of the American people. Legal abortion will never rest easy on the conscience of America. It will continue to haunt the consciences of men and women everywhere. The plain facts of biology, the profound appeals of the heart, are far to unsettling ever to fade away.
When you think about it, you know, ours is still after all, the world’s only country with a birth certificate. A document of legitimacy explaining exactly what our rights and duties are, and where our laws come from. We were endowed with these rights, says that Declaration, by our Creator. We were not only created, says the Declaration, but created equal. So our rights, therefore, are by definition, in the words of the Declaration, unalienable. All the laws protecting these rights, therefore, are not to be tampered with by man. Alexander Hamilton had a word for this process, and it’s a beautiful formulation. Listen just for a moment. he said, and I quote, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of Divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
You know, scholars still debate the relationship between our Constitution, which makes no mention of the Creator, and the Declaration of Independence. There is a school which says “the Constitution stands all by itself, the Declaration was a compelling piece of rhetoric, but of no legal relevance.” The other school has long pointed to the view of Abraham Lincoln, who called the ideals of the Declaration, “America’s civil religion, the faith that animates our Constitution.” Well, I’m going to go out on a limb tonight and side with Abraham Lincoln. With him, I believe the Constitution must always be read with reference to the Declaration, which explains where all our laws derived there legitimacy. The Constitution assers in essence that no man is above the law and lays down all of the checks and balances and procedures to see that this principle is observed. But, it is the Declaration that reminds us of the even more American ideal that no one is beneath the law, that we are all created equally in His image. The Constitution is a vehicle, a great vehicle, for our national journey together. But, the Declaration points the way to our common destination and says that none shall be left behind. Neither document, in my judgement, would have its full greatness without the other; and if you look at Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, you’ll see the union of those two powerful statements. But today, as we look at our legal system – let’s look at our legal system for just a moment – we see that the principles of the Declaration, the self-evident truths so essential to who we are as a people, are no longer self-evident in many quarters.
I’d like to indulge in a little license here by relying on and referring to a case, the one with which I am most familiar. It’s called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey . Speaking of that case, George Weigel said recently something very important, I think, to the understanding of our people. He said, and I quote, “In the 1992 decision to uphold what they call ‘the central finding of Roe v. Wade ,’ had this to say about the meaning of freedom in America.” And he quoted the justices. They said, “at the heart of liberty” – now listen to this – ” at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of life.” And Weigel continues, “despite the high-sounding words, one would have to go back to the Dred Scott decision to find a judicial pronouncement more ominous in tis implications for American Democracy.” And he continues, and I quote, “the American experiment is no longer about working out the public implications of what Jefferson called ‘self-evident truths.’ No, the goal of the American experiment is the satisfaction of the unencumbered, autonomous, self-constituting, imperial self.”
In other words, the common good referred to in the mission statement does not even enter into the equation when this process of self-definition is going on in the minds of our people. The tradition that inspired this university, which the university in turn vows to uphold and to communicate, is a vast reservoir of these truths – these self-evident, unalienable truths in our Declaration – reflected in that Declaration, which came before the law and will always remain above it. I think it is a great tragedy that in our laws over the last twenty-five years, we’ve seen not just occasional deviations from that tradition, but a wholesale rejection of its very premise.
I think that right now, around America, we’re waking up to the falsity of the promises of liberation held out by such fashionable causes as abortion on demand and no-fault divorce. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon has effectively traced the radical nature of our social experiments in these areas. Experiments that have placed us on the radical fringe of Western society, on the basis of comparative law – America versus other countries on these issues. Scholars like Lenore Weitzman and Judith Wallerstein have traced the economic and psychological trauma that divorce has brought to women, children, and families; the so called “feminization of poverty,” juvenile crime, teenage suicide. These and a host of other evils are directly related to the breakdown of the family.
Nowhere is the governing premise behind the false promises of liberation expressed so eloquently, and so unfortunately, as in the plurality opinion in the decision from which I just read, the Planned Parenthood decision. That premise is the view of the human person as a radically autonomous self, creating its own world and its own truths irrespective of society, irrespective of other human beings and their rights. It’s easy to see that no view could be more corrosive of that indispensable institution which is a building block of all civil society which, of course, is the family.
We are finally waking up as a people to the truth which many, thank goodness, never forgot in all those years; that society and families and people just don’t work that way. We are not autonomous selves creating our own little worlds. We are members of a complex and diverse human society. A community, if you will – large and small, public and private – in which the decisions of one person affect all the others, in which the responsibilities, once accepted, cannot be casually terminated. In retrospect, it seems obvious to me that if a society wanted to forget these obvious truths, it would be necessary to deny the binding force of the bonds of marriage and parenthood. And consequently, it follows, it would be necessary to have these institutions which have done so much damage to our society – no-fault divorce and legal abortion – which strike so directly and with such lethal force at those most crucial human bonds. So, in the wake of the Planned Parenthood decision, we must ask ourselves the central question: why the confusion in our legal system about the most fundamental question any society can ask itself .. who is a person? who shall be recognized and protected as a member of the human family?
We look to our legal system and we get no clear answer. Take the case in Florida, recently, where a woman was charged with murder for ending her pregnancy by shooting herself. Earlier this year, in a 6 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court of California held that a person can be convicted of homicide for causing the death of an unborn child that could have been legally aborted if performed by a physician with the consent of the child’s mother. The majority opinion stated, and I quote, “the third party killing of a fetus with malice aforethought is murder, as long as the state can show that the fetus has progressed beyond the embryonic stage of seven to eight weeks.” So, it seems then with legal abortion we have finally, explicitly – not by implication – but explicitly severed the right to life from personhood. And so, the unalienable right to life proclaimed by Jefferson is now, for some persons, alienable … negotiable. And so, we have nothing but chaos and confusion in a realm where principles of justice and moral reasoning are given little weight. The challenge that lies ahead for leaders is to bring the light of America’s founding principles and sound moral and legal reasoning to bear on these and many other questions.
Let me state at this point my conviction that abortion has not, and never will, take a permanent place in our culture. In a country whose whole reason for being is to affirm the goodness and the equality of all human life, how could such a thing ever fit in? This, I think, explains why other societies have pretty much accepted abortion with little argument. But here, in this country – and it makes me proud of my country – here, it tears at our soul. You see, other countries can accept it for the simple reason that other countries are not America. Because we claim to be different. We have a … calling. We’re coming back, I think – and I really mean this – we’re coming back to that calling. No other country began with a promise on its sacred honor to love and protect all human life equally. That’s a pledge only one nation on earth is sworn to keep, and we know it, the people of this country know it. and that’s why the debate rages on, on an issue that was supposedly settled and finished business, fifteen times between 1973 and this very day.
Back to the mission statement of this university. Adherence to truth begins with the realization that the message of respect for human life is not just a religious message … much less an exclusively Catholic or sectarian message. It is all of these, and proudly so. It’s a truth reflected not just in the Catholic religion, but in most organized religions. It is also a universal truth embraced by those of all faiths, and those of no faith. Its pedigree reaches back to the founding principles of our nation. It is the truth about mankind, according to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. And more than that, it is a truth that has been a living part of the American experience, a truth we have not only know in our hearts, but practiced in our lives.
Prior to 1973 – just think about this for a minute – the laws of America reflected an overwhelming pro-life consensus that children before birth deserve the protection of the law. That consensus was a secular consensus. Those laws were not written by clerics, or in monasteries, or by the great organized religions of America. They were written by people who respected the truth. And that secular, pro-life consensus was both popular and national. And those two words are important. Popular because it came directly from the people, and national because it was not sectional or regional. It covered the entire country .. not unique to any one class or any region, but embodied in the laws of virtually every state in our nation. Not unique to our left or to the right, Democrats or Republicans, Liberals or conservatives, it represented the mainstream of America. My friends, it still is the mainstream of America, so don’t be fooled.
The American people have not accepted abortion on demand. They’ve been hammering away for twenty-one years, but they’re hammering a square peg into a round hole. It’s like a bone in our throat. We can’t swallow it. We cannot assimilate it. We cannot become comfortable with it, because it’s fundamentally contrary to what we believe as Americans. It’s in our history. Every poll shows a vast and growing unease with the abortion license and the industry that serves it. I believe a pro-life consensus already exists in America. And it grows every time someone looks in a sonogram.
But, you know, many of our fellow citizens do not know this. I urge you tonight to tell them. If you will do this, you will be, in the words of the mission statement of Notre Dame, dedicating yourselves to the pursuit and sharing of truth, for its own sake, with the aim of creating a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice. Such a challenge is a high calling, worthy of each of you, and worthy of this great university. Thank you.

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Peter Brown

posted November 23, 2009 at 8:30 am

Unfortunately, Cuomo’s position is incoherent. Was the involvement of the Southern black church in the civil-rights movement illegitimate? Was the involvement of Northern churches in abolition illegitimate? Both had substantial religious motivations, after all.
And why is religion singled out here? Other influences on a politician–such as ethnicity (Sonia Sotomayor), gender (Sotomayor, again), or personal history (John McCain, Bill Clinton)–are seen as legitimate, so why not religion?
Cuomo is right that right that politicians shouldn’t try to legislate aspects of their religion that don’t involve legitimate interests of the State. Laws requiring Sunday Mass attendance, for example, would be an abuse of State power–that’s not the State’s business.
But abortion isn’t simply a Catholic position; it’s a human position. There are plenty of non-Catholic (even non-religious) pro-lifers. If a large part of the rest of our culture chooses to ignore the human claims of these least among us, that’s hardly the Church’s fault.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 9:28 am

Mr. Flaptap hit the nail on the head. Cuomo, like many “Catholic” politicians, insist that they can’t impose their religion on others. On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine for Cuomo and his ilk to impose the positions of their political party on others. If Cuomo and Pat Kennedy have their way, they would eagerly pass laws that require that my tax money be used to pay for abortions. Not to mention the unborn children on whom Cuomo and Kennedy’s political positions are imposed. What a hypocrite!

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ron chandonia

posted November 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Obviously, the American people do not want to elect politicians who are influenced by their faith in God or their religious values. They prefer politicians who lie, cheat and steal them blind. If they did not, why would they continue to elect Cuomos and Kennedys to public office?

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posted November 24, 2009 at 12:28 am

It is one thing for an elected official to be influenced by his or her moral and ethical values, whether they come from organized religion or wherever. We want that to happen. It is quite another thing for the Catholic Church (or at least some of the hierarchy) to tell an individual elected official that if he or she votes a certain way or supports a certain piece of legislation he or she will be denied the sacraments of the church and be damned for eternity.

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posted November 24, 2009 at 7:27 am

What Mr Cuomo either ignorantly or conveniently forgets to mention is that the issue at hand is not a matter of Catholic doctrine but human rights. We are not asking America to enshrine the doctrine of the Trinity in the Constitution but recognize the human status of pre-borne human persons. One does not need the Catholic faith to see this.

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