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By Michael J. Gaynor
Op/Ed

After refusing to protect Terri Schiavo's right to life, the United States Supreme Court kept Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, without comment.

Obviously a majority of the Justices are still unwilling and perhaps even unable to acknowledge so heinous a mistake as permitting innocent life to be ended because someone considers it inconvenient.

Pray that they will be replaced as Justices with better people.

The sooner, the better.

And that the Roman Catholic Church in the United States be unambiguously pro-life and unafraid to follow canon law when it embarrasses the rich and powerful.

Our Pope is a living saint, but we need some better bishops too.

As CBS's Dan Rather might say: "COURAGE!"

The first step should be for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to support Pope John Paul II and canon law.

On January 25, 199O, I wrote to the late John Cardinal O'Connor, then the Archbishop of New York:

"It is, of course, public knowledge (and, to many, public scandal) that the Governor of the State of New York, Mario Cuomo, persists in refusing to accept the Church's teaching on abortion. As I understand it, that teaching is a fundamental tenet of the Church and, by refusing to accept it, Governor Cuomo has separated himself from the Church.

"Excommunication is a drastic remedy which should not be utilized unless it is truly necessary. In the case of Governor Cuomo, his scandalous, strident public statements appear to call for such drastic action. As you know, a bishop who was incarcerated for protesting abortion recently warned Governor Cuomo that if he persists in his course of action, he risks 'going straight to hell.' Governor Cuomo responded by stating that he defended both the right of a bishop to curse a politician and the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion. In fact, the bishop did not curse Governor Cuomo; he gave him a warning which was certainly warranted. Governor Cuomo's reply, though clever, maliciously distorts the bishop's statement and reiterates the Governor's unwillingness to accept Church teaching.

"I respectfully suggest that excommunication may not only be appropriate, but effective. I have read a book by James Conoway, entitled Judge, which is an account of the life and times of Leander Perez. Mr. Perez dominated Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana for nearly half a century, and although professing to be a Catholic, refused to accept fundamental Church teachings, resulting in his excommunication.

"The following paragraph from page 189 of the book is illuminating:

One week after the funeral Mass, six new Orleans priests lodged a complaint with the Archbishop Philip Hannan, protesting the burial of 'the leading racist of the South, Leander H. Perez, Sr., with full and solemn honors in a Catholic church.' An unidentified official of the archdiocese announced to the Associated Press that the excommunication of Judge Perez had in fact been quietly lifted the previous year. Officials of the archdiocese had begun discreet inquiries after the death of [Mrs.] Perez in 1967 to determine whether Judge Perez wished to return officially to the Catholic faith. Archbishop Rummel, who had initiated the excommunication, had died in the interim. Perez was made to understand that anything he might say in public that could be construed as "supporting the authority of the Church' would be sufficient to lift the censure. It was claimed that one year before his death, Perez spoke to a small gathering which included two priests, at the dedication of an incinerator plant in Plaquemines. They reported to their superiors that Perez had ended his brief speech with a word of praise for the parochial school system, and for the new archbishop, Hannan. Soon after that, Perez was informed that he was absolved.

"It appears that Archbishop Rummel's courageous action had a salutary effect.

"It is also noteworthy that former Governor Hugh Carey, Governor Cuomo's predecessor, recently expressed regret for his failure to fully accept the Church's teaching on abortion. It is unfortunate that Governor Carey did not have the courage to do so while he was in public office, and it seems clear that Governor Cuomo, still contemplating further public service as an elected official, will not be dissuaded from his present course unless (and perhaps even if) he is excommunicated.

"In excommunicating Mr. Perez, Archbishop Rummel exhibited moral courage, which is lacking in Governor Cuomo. The failure to excommunicate Governor Cuomo, notwithstanding his demagogic exploitation of the so-called abortion issue, would call into question the Church's authority and integrity.

"I pray that your recent meeting with Governor Cuomo will help him to see the light. If not, or if he sees the light but refuses to acknowledge it, then the Church should make it public that Governor Cuomo, by his own public actions, has separated himself from the Church."

I received a polite reply, to the effect that quiet persuasion would be tried first.

It didn't work.

On June 14, 1990, Cardinal O'Connor issued a 12-page statement on abortion policy in his archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New York.

In pertinent part, it stated:

"Where Catholics are perceived not only as treating church teaching on abortion with contempt, by helping to multiple abortions by advocating legislation supporting abortion, or by making public funds available for abortion, bishops may decide that, for the common good, such Catholics must be warned that they are at risk of excommunication. If such actions persist, bishops may consider excommunication the only option."

It also stated:

"To have the power to impose penalties and to use that power...are two different things."

Excommunication is a power not exercised lightly.

A media ministorm ensued in the secular media.

The caterwauling was contemptible.

A New York Post columnist compared Cardinal O'Connor to the Ayatollah Khomeini and nominally Catholic political opportunists perhaps to be subjected to "inquisition" to the then author-in-hiding, Salman Rushdie.

The New York Times charged that Cardinal O'Connor's "uncompromising stance punishes Catholics in public life" and complained that "the Cardinal imposes a religious test of his own," even though the Constitution prevents the government from imposing a religious test for public office.

Cardinal O'Connor was following fundamental Church teaching, not trying to force a dubious personal opinion on others.

The same Constitution that bars religious tests for public office protects freedom of religion, including a religion's right to maintain standards.

The Amish are entitled to shun, and the Catholic Church is entitled to excommunicate.

But, the other Catholic bishops of the United States did not rally to Cardinal O'Connor's support.

By the following Sunday Cardinal O'Connor was declaring that he had "never threatened to excommunicate anyone."

Presumably distinguishing a general warning from a specific threat.

And the next day Katie Couric of the Today show was telling viewers that there were widespread concerns that the late President John F. Kennedy might take orders from the Vatican and such church-state concerns "persist" as a result of Cardinal O'Connor's "bold attempt to discipline politicians."

As though politicians should have a special immunity and the Church should be helpless to apply its rules to pro-abortionists (if not racists) if they are politicians.

Governor Cuomo, who initiating had said that "[n]o Roman Catholic I know could feel good about having a great cardinal of the great church suggest that your soul was in peril," followed to assure viewers that he knew better than the great Cardinal O'Connor, and he wouldn't support abortion if he thought he "was risking [his] soul."

And other renegade Catholics appeared too.

Reverend Andrew Greeley, in clerical collar, was distressed that Cardinal O'Connor was interfering with "a dialoguing society."

And Frances Kissling, representing the oxymoronically named Catholics for a Free Choice, derided Cardinal O'Connor for "an act of desperation."

Tom Bethell, in an outstanding tongue-in-check titled article, "The Heresy of Cardinal O'Connor," published in The Wall Street Journal on June 20, 1990, discussed "the real world":

"[I]ssues of canon law and constitutional law barely describe the real world that Cardinal O'Connor finds himself in--a world in which a partial press armed with cameras and spotlights can generate unanticipated public pressure."

Bethell succinctly described Cardinal O'Connor's perilous predicament:

"Cardinal O'Connor has been served notice, informally, that the church membership claims of Catholic politicians who adopt positions in line with the secular culture should not be questioned publicly by Catholic Church leaders. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York characterized such question-raising as 'intemperate, mean-spirited, and in contempt of Christian and Catholic belief.'

In particular, Cardinal O'Connor has been warned that if he excommunicates politicians without fear or favor, the 'church-state' issue will be raised against him and life will get hot under the media spotlight."

"BIG PICTURE" blackmail by the extreme secularists.

Who want to pick and choose which Church teaching should be enforced and which should be ignored.

When Archbishop Runnel had excommunicated Leander Perez, the New York Times had been delighted:

"We salute the Catholic Archbishop. He has set an example founded on religious principle, and responsive to the social conscience of our time." People "of all faiths must admire" his "unwavering courage."

Excommunicating a man for interfering with black children trying to attend a Catholic school is great.

Excommunicating anyone for supporting a civil "right" to terminate the lives of unborn babies is...well, "intemperate, mean-spirited, and in contempt of Christian and Catholic belief," to quote Congressman Rangel.

Sound right to you?

After Cardinal O'Connor's lengthy statement was published, the very skillful Governor Cuomo had called a news conference to cry: "It is upsetting. I don't like to hear it. How could you? This is something very fundamental to our family."

Not fundamental enough to Governor Cuomo, however.

Who, in Bethell's well chosen words, "manage[d] to pull off the amazing trick of posing as Thomas More while being in the position of Henry VIII."

And has yet to repent.

Let's look at the "BIG PICTURE," then and now.

Particularly, three points effectively made by Bethell.

1. "Cardinal O'Connor (and anyone rash enough to follow in his footsteps)[wa]s under extra-legal media and political pressure to turn a blind eye when church members expediently align themselves with the secular culture. The Catholic Church may be a private institution, some politicians and their media allies are obliquely saying, but it's too important an institution to be left solely in the hands of clergymen. The church should, therefore, uncomplainingly permit itself to be colonized by internal dissenters."

Nearly fifteen years later, the situation is worse. Only a few bishops would refrain from committing the sacrilege and public scandal of giving Communion to pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicians posing as faithful Catholics. And the State of Illinois recently passed a law intended to force the Church to hire homosexuals. Has respect for religion deteriorated to the point at which Nazis might be able to sue synagogues for not hiring them?

2. "If church law is God' law, and if abortion-supporting politicians deserve excommunication now, they deserved it all along. But for 17 years U.S. bishops have said little to encourage this line of thought. This protracted Episcopal silence has permitted Cardinal O'Connor's opponents to construe his recent remarks as arbitrary."

Nearly 15 years later, abortion continues to be "legal" in the United States and notorious pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicians are denied Holy Communion by a relatively small band of faithful clerics instead of all of them.

3. "If the rule had been enforced all along, maybe the church would be a smaller institution today, but it would also be a more self-assured one."

Amen!

Contact

Michael J. Gaynor
NY, US
Michael J. Gaynor - Attorney, 631 757-9452

Email

GaynorMike@aol.com

Keywords

Cardinal O'Connor, Mario Cuomo, abortion, excommunication

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