The “Bronx cheer,” as every New Yorker knows, is made by placing the tongue between the lips and blowing in rude fashion to signal derision toward something or someone. “Bravo” needs no explanation. Not long ago Cardinal Dolan’s pronouncements on moral theology often deserved the former assessment. (See “Cardinal Dolan’s Unfortunate Lapse” and “Cardinal Dolan’s Discernment Deficit.”) Today, however, given the change in the substance and tone of his pronouncements, he deserves praise.
Among past examples of the Cardinal’s earlier specious thinking was his 2017 essay offering “moral lessons” for President Trump and New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. That essay began by quoting a rabbi’s compliment to him about Dolan’s consistency of thought. It then proceeded to suggest a moral equivalence between Trump’s border policy and Cuomo’s endorsement of abortion. The essay ended with these parallel statements:
Thanks, Mr. President, for your concern for the baby in the womb. Can you show the same for the threatened immigrant? Thanks, Mr. Governor, for your eloquent defense of the immigrant welcomed by Lady Liberty, at the door to the state you govern. Can you show the same solicitude for the infant awaiting birth? Some consistency, please . . .
I suspect the Cardinal considered this formulation fair, balanced, and eminently reasonable. Yet the clear message of the essay was that temporarily barring immigrants from countries that have fostered terrorism is not only a moral offense (a mistaken notion), but one as serious as permanently ending the life of a human being in utero. However noble the Cardinal’s intentions, that message was absurd.
Flash forward to January 2019 and the news that has outraged not only Catholics but morally sensitive people of all faiths, and many unbelievers as well—the New York State legislature’s passing and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing of a law that permits abortion up to the moment of birth. The signing ceremony was festive, with Cuomo sporting a pink tie. After the signing, there was high-fiving, applause, and celebration, complete with champagne, in New York State’s Senate Chamber. As if that were not enough jubilation, Cuomo ordered the Freedom Tower to light its spire pink. Hmmm. Consider the irony of using a structure named “freedom” to signal the denial of freedom to the victims of abortion.
From this time forward in New York State, innocent, defenseless human beings can now be murdered just before or just after birth. But Hooray and Halleluiah? That is the kind of reaction one can imagine Hitler and his accomplices had to the news that the Holocaust being carried out efficiently. (Note: A number of other states are reportedly poised to enact similar legislation.)
At least two Catholic bishops, Richard Stika of Knoxville and Joseph Strickland of Tyler, not only denounced the law for legitimizing infanticide, but also called for Cuomo to be denied Communion and/or excommunicated. A number of well-known laymen echoed that call.
Cardinal Dolan also responded forcefully, noting that “safe, legal, and rare,” has become “dangerous, enforced, and frequent” and calling the new law “ghoulish, grisly, [and] gruesome.” However, he rejected the calls for denial of Communion and/or excommunication. At first thought, his response may seem weak and ineffectual. But a closer look at his reasoning suggests the opposite:
First, he called excommunication “counterproductive,” arguing that it would suggest that the Church considers Cuomo’s signing of the bill an internal Catholic matter when it is much more than that—the denial of innocent victims’ civil rights. Excommunication of Cuomo, he reasoned, would invite the law’s supporters to invoke the “separation of Church and State” argument and thereby blunt public criticism of the law.
Secondly, although the Cardinal agreed with the idea of urging Cuomo to seek appropriate counseling regarding the reception of Communion, he argued that the issue is private and “pastoral” and therefore should not be dealt with in a formal, public directive.
A third reason, one Dolan did not offer but no doubt had in mind, is that with the world still reeling from the sex abuse scandal—in particular the hierarchy’s complicity-by-silence—it would be imprudent for the Church to take the dramatic public step of excommunicating anyone, let alone a state governor. (The cries of “hypocrisy” would surely echo around the globe.)
Cardinal Dolan’s rejection of his fellow prelates’ response to Governor Cuomo’s signing of the abortion bill showed both courage and wisdom. No less wise, I might add, was his resistance of the temptation to conflate the issue of abortion with the border issue.
For these reasons, and for his display of the kind of leadership the Church sorely needs, the Cardinal deserves a rousing “Bravo.”
Copyright © 2019 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved