The New York State Legislature on Tuesday night passed the Reproductive Health Act (“RHA”), which legalized abortion in New York State up to the moment of birth. Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly signed the bill into law, hailing it as a triumph for “reproductive freedom.” Then the governor ordered the spire of New York City’s Freedom Tower be lit up pink in celebration.
New York’s Catholic bishops denounced the new law. New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan released a statement signed by all of the state bishops asking, “This is progressive?” Sternly worded condemnations are fine as far as they go, but not nearly far enough in this instance. Either Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany—the location of Governor Cuomo’s canonical crimes—or Cardinal Dolan of New York—where Cuomo is probably canonically domiciled—should solemnly excommunicate the governor for his enthusiastic support of this monstrous law.
The RHA strips abortion from the penal code, permits non-doctors to perform abortions, and makes abortion legal on-demand for the first 24 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy; abortions are permissible after 24 weeks, but only if they are “necessary” to protect a mother’s life or health. The RHA does not define “health,” though it certainly has an expansive meaning since the very broad definition from Doe v. Bolton (1973), the companion case to Roe, is likely what the “progressive” New York legislators intended to codify.
The effective outcome is that a baby can be shot through with poison or hacked apart by forceps a moment before the child is born. That should horrify any sane, moral person. And yet, after the RHA passed, the New York lawmakers were seen smiling and clapping with glee in celebration—a display of utter barbarism and depravity that shocks the conscience.
Bishop Scharfenberger writes in a statement condemning the RHA that we must “support the lives of all, especially the voiceless, the most vulnerable and marginalized.” He goes on: “Let’s not bequeath to our children a culture of death, but together build a more humane society for the lives of all of our fellow citizens.”
“Mr. Cuomo,” the bishop concludes, “do not build this Death Star.”
Cardinal Dolan also joined his voice to the bishop’s, noting the illogic at the heart of a concept of “progress” that celebrates the slaughter of the tiniest and most innocent among us: “For a genuine progressive, all human life deserves dignity, respect, care, and protection, no matter what stage, from the womb to the tomb. No exceptions! The more vulnerable, threatened, or fragile, the more dignity, respect, care, and protection life requires” (emphasis in original).
Both statements are necessary and demonstrate morally clear thinking on the part of both men, which is admirable in these topsy turvy times. But pointed press statements without action in this case are empty. They need to take swift and decisive action. They have real power and they ought to use it.
The Church is not just a spiritual haven; she is inescapably a political actor, too, and the episcopacy needs to stop letting enemies of the Church remain at home within her, subverting her mission and redefining her in a way antithetical to her true purpose which is to convert the world to Christ. Bishop Scharfenberger and Cardinal Dolan are not mere pundits who must be content to fling rhetorical arrows at a shameless, immoral man like Cuomo. Instead, they, princes of the Church, can exercise the authority of their high offices and defend her from evil—and they should.
In his commentary to Pope Saint John Paul II’s Ad tuendam fidem, then-Cardinal Ratzinger included “the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being” as on par with “the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas and Marian dogmas.” He then declared: “Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” In other words, assent to the proposition that abortion is a gravely immoral act is required of any faithful Catholic.
A person like Cuomo, who insists that the unborn have no right to life, undeniably is spouting heresy—“the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.”
If either cleric were to excommunicate Cuomo, he would be performing a great moral service to the world, the Church, and, most importantly, to Cuomo himself. Throughout the Church’s long history, excommunication was seen as very strong medicine, sometimes necessarily administered—but only rarely—to bring an especially wayward soul back to Christ and His Church. By alerting Cuomo to the seriousness of what he has done, the Church might prompt him to return to the Faith; failing that, excommunicating him might at least warn other public officials of what could happen should they behave as he has.
In addition, it would signal to everyone that the Church remains fully serious about its teachings on the sanctity of life, and it would encourage faithful Catholics to retain their zeal for the Church’s beautiful, good, and true teachings on that subject, as well as send a clear message to those wavering or who outright reject her moral teachings on abortion and other things, like marriage, that they must not continue to do so.
It would, finally, put an abrupt halt to the Church’s steady assimilation to the world and its prerogatives. In excommunicating a man who believes that women have the “fundamental right” to contract with another person to execute their preborn children, the Church would sound the death knell of the much-abused “seamless garment” worldview, which is more often than not a rhetorical smokescreen for those want to ignore abortion outright, elevating other “life issues” to equal or higher corrective priority.
But the “consistent life ethic,” as applied by its most notable boosters, is pernicious nonsense. Would we think it sensible to avoid making murder illegal while we fret about what makes people murder? Or would we just attack the evil of murder directly and declare, by making it illegal, that nobody ought to do it, ever, no matter what kinds of poor conditions they were raised in or hardships they face?
To ask is to answer.
It is wrong and an abuse of canon law to wield the sword of excommunication to exact revenge on someone or for purely political purposes; however, that is not the case here. Abortion is a moral evil at least on par with chattel slavery, a practice we rightly regard with horror.
It would be fitting for the Church—which resolutely stands for the dignity of every single human being against the powerful who would destroy them for convenience’s sake—to stand now with the unborn, against a moral monster like Andrew Cuomo.
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