The Cuomo-Communion Controversy | Are canon law and pastoral practice really opposed? | Edward N. Peters | Catholic World Report
Hardly a generation ago, a canon lawyer’s remarks that a divorced man openly cohabiting with a divorced woman was ineligible to receive Holy Communion would have been greeted with a polite yawn, as if to say, “Of course he can’t be given Communion. Tell us something we don’t already know.” But then, a generation ago, most Catholics were generally aware of the fundamentals of sacramental discipline, or, at the least, of those aspects of sacramental discipline that went back to the Apostolic Age.
Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a divorced Catholic man who lives with television celebrity Sandra Lee (also divorced, but not Catholic), was given Holy Communion at a well-publicized Mass celebrated by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany. But my comments against Cuomo’s taking Communion, instead of occasioning yawns, provoked dozens of broadcast news segments, hundreds of newspaper articles, and thousands of web posts. My assertion that some things besides personal opinion can impact a Catholic’s eligibility to receive the Eucharist garnered nervous comments by bishops, open ridicule by left-leaning politicos, and several minutes of appallingly vacuous criticism by the odd quartet who make up The View.
The Cuomo-Communion controversy cannot be written off as hype generated by the secular media’s selective zeal for the separation of Church and state (a separation routinely invoked against Catholics critical of, say, legalized abortion, but conveniently ignored when Catholics support, say, social spending programs). Cuomo’s consistent support for legalized abortion and “gay marriage” has canonical implications, to be sure, and those must eventually be faced, but most of the media storm focused on my analysis of the governor’s being given Holy Communion despite his living arrangements, not his politics. It was, in other words, largely an issue internal to the Church. So, the widespread opposition-bordering-on-outrage leveled against my assertions must spring from deeper wells than partisan politics.
Indeed it does.
The Cuomo-Communion controversy revealed several “fault lines” in Catholics’ understanding of the relationship between canon law and pastoral practice, fault lines that can be traced, I think, to the antinomian earthquakes that shook Church and state in the 1960s and which fractures in thinking are still active today. Deeply distrustful, even resentful, attitudes toward canon law arose in Catholic circles immediately after Vatican II. While perhaps somewhat muted today, significant antinomian attitudes still linger, leaving many in the Church deprived of a proper understanding of the vital role that Church law should play in the life of faith.