Some call for New York governor to be excommunicated for supporting abortion

29 January 2019

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s new expansive abortion measure into law , some Catholics have called for the governor, who is Catholic, to be excommunicated.

Cuomo fully backed the Reproductive Health Act on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, as it made its way through the Legislature. It expands access to abortion, allows late-term abortions and lets non-doctors perform abortions.

A Jan. 28 statement issued by a spokesperson for New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said in general that “excommunication should not be used as a weapon,” and that too often those who call for someone’s excommunication “do so out of anger or frustration.”

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

“Notable canon lawyers have said that, under canon law, excommunication is not an appropriate response to a politician who supports or votes for legislation advancing abortion,” said the statement, which laid out “general principles” and did not address any specific individual.

“From a pastoral perspective, if a pastor — and a bishop is certainly a pastor of a diocese — knows of a grave situation involving a parishioner, it is his duty to address that issue personally and directly with the parishioner,” it said, adding that this is the approach of Cardinal Dolan as it was of his predecessors as New York’s archbishop, the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor and the late Cardinal Edward M. Egan.

“From a strategic perspective,” excommunication is not effective because “many politicians would welcome it as a sign of their refusal to be ‘bullied by the church,’ thinking it would therefore give them a political advantage,” the statement said.

As an example of this “political advantage,” it cited how in 1989, Bishop Leo T. Maher, then head of the Diocese of San Diego, gained national attention when he forbade California Senate candidate Lucy Killea, a state assemblywoman, from receiving Communion because of her support for legal abortion, which had become a prominent feature of her campaign.

In a TV talk-show appearance, the lawmaker said she would neither alter her position on abortion nor leave her faith. Killea won the election.

Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger had addressed the bill and Cuomo’s support for it in an open letter to the governor published at, the website of The Evangelist, Albany’s diocesan newspaper.

In his letter in The Evangelist, Bishop Scharfenberger wrote that despite what supporters claim, the Reproductive Health Act “goes far beyond Roe v. Wade in its aggressive extremism.”

He outlined several of its provisions:

— “Granting non-doctors permission to perform abortions does nothing to advance the security and health of women.”

— “Condoning coerced or involuntary abortions by repealing criminal sanctions even in cases where a perpetrator seeks to make his partner ‘un-pregnant’ through an act of physical violence does not represent any kind of progress in the choice, safety or health of women.”

— “Removing protection for an infant accidentally born alive during an abortion is abject cruelty, something most people of conscience would deem inhumane for even a dog or cat.”

— “Finally, allowing late-term abortions is nothing less than a license to kill a pre-born child at will.”

He urged Cuomo not to let the bill, which he called a “Death Star,” become law.

“Although in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our church,” the bishop said.

The New York State Catholic Conference said that with the new abortion law, the state “has become a more dangerous one for women and their unborn babies.”