The Deacon's Bench

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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