Andrew Cuomo and the Sins of the Fathers Print
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 20 January 2014

A Latvian woman was at my home this weekend and teared up when she learned of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Friday outburst that there’s “no place” in his state for pro-lifers and supporters of traditional marriage: “It reminds me of what I experienced under Communism back home, when we weren’t allowed to talk about religion in public. I came here and was so happy to be in a country where we could speak and act freely. But that’s changed now.”

Indeed, it has.

We’re still far from the old Warsaw Pact repression, but there’s something in her reaction worth pondering. We simply cannot go on allowing people of traditional religious and moral beliefs to be insulted and intimidated in public without it leading to something much worse.

Pope Francis told the young people in Brazil for 2013 World Youth Day to “raise a ruckus.”

Well, here’s something to raise a ruckus about.

My Latvian blamed the bishops: “Back home they couldn’t speak, here they still can.” That’s not entirely fair. Our bishops have been outspoken about religious freedom, especially since they’ve been staring down the barrel at the Obamacare mandates. (As I write, though, it’s over forty-eight hours since Cuomo spoke and there’s no response from Cardinal Dolan or the New York archdiocese.)

But all the same, she’s not entirely wrong either. The American hierarchy has been quite garrulous over the years about all sorts of things. And that’s part of the problem. My friend the historian James Hitchcock once noted drily that in the 1950s the bishops’ conference even commented on traffic safety: “They were in favor of it.” 

The more recent problem is not that they haven’t been speaking, but that very few, even among “Catholics” (e.g., Andrew Cuomo), are listening. And our hierarchy, past and present, does bear some responsibility for that.

It’s an old story by now, how the bishops allowed dissent to grow inside the Church. It’s not particularly important to decide how much stemmed from the 1960s cultural revolution that may simply have overwhelmed them, or whether they could have done more and did not. The long and the short of it is we’re at a critical tipping point and it’s time to act.

But that involves more than just the bishops.

They lost the connection to a vast number of American Catholics in the 1960s and 1970s, rebuilt it some under John Paul II, then lost it again with the priestly abuse crisis. Sad to say, JPII himself was not on top of the abuse.

But that’s merely academic now.

      Andrew Cuomo and his wife Kerry Kennedy in 2002

In the past, the bishops, like other religious leaders, counted on a veritable army of co-combatants, from grassroots organizations and officials in local and state governments to major news outlets and politicians – Catholics as well as non-Catholics – at the national level, especially when someone was being told there’s “no place” for them in America.

That’s all gone. So it’s time for US to act – all of us. We need to put aside illusions about how many of our fellow citizens see us now: if you oppose abortion you are making “war on women,” and if you affirm Genesis that “male and female He created them,” you are “anti-gay” and “spewing hatred.” And an “extremist.” Really.

I expect Andrew Cuomo will mumble some excuse that he was speaking in the heat of the moment about opposing politicians. He also knows, of course, that with his Party’s more radical members, this will be a step towards the presidency.

But cultural Catholics: Beware! In 1984, Andrew’s father Mario gave a speech at Notre Dame affirming the notion that Catholics can be “personally opposed” without supporting laws to protect of life in the womb. Liberal Catholics and liberals more generally applauded. But as happens when you sell your birthright for a mess of pottage, Mario wound up in the wilderness. He never got near the White House.

It’s probably inevitable that, in a post-Christian culture, the state will not only become non-Christian, but positively anti-Christian. But who says a post-Christian culture is inevitable? What human will has done can be undone.

This is not only an American problem: it’s happening in all the developed democracies around the world – which along with the U.N. would like to spread it further. So it’s impossible to overstate the problem that exists between Church and State today.

This Wednesday, as for the past forty-one years, tens of thousands of people will come to the Mall in Washington from all over the country to protest Roe v. Wade. That fight has not been lost and has even succeeded making pro-lifers a slight majority in America.

But protesting abortion is no longer enough. We need action – every day, every place anti-Christian and anti-religious tyranny shows itself. I don’t know if there are protesters outside Cuomo’s residence this week, but there damn well ought to be.

These protests may not be pretty, or particularly “civil.” But for too long we’ve let others define proper social etiquette, which they don’t observe themselves, to get away with outrages.

And we cannot take for granted that our popular, democratic systems as practicing some kind of neutrality among the different beliefs of their peoples. As we know from sad experience, this fiction of balance almost always topples over on top of Christians.

Thomas Jefferson once said that he didn’t care whether his neighbor believed in one god or twenty: “it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

America has moved very far since then. Many people today have had their pockets picked and legs broken – and worse – because of what their fellow citizens do and do not believe. And the worst of all is that some now assume – not without reason – that they may ride roughshod over traditional believers with impunity.

That day is over. The bishops need to step up. But so do you and I.

Raise a ruckus!

Robert Royal
 is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is 
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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