Catholic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is divorced, and making no secret about living with his (also divorced) girlfriend Sandra Lee. Though the people of New York don't consider this an impediment to his serving as governor, the Canon Law of the Catholic Church considers this an impediment to receiving Holy Communion (Canon 915). But it seems that Cuomo's bishop, Howard Hubbard, didn't get the memo, and served both Governor Cuomo and Ms. Lee communion at Mass recently. (Full details can be found in this CNS News article.)
When Canon Lawyer Edward Peters publicly stated the simple fact that under Catholic sacramental law, Governor Cuomo should not have been given communion, there was a great public outcry - against Dr. Peters. Everybody and his brother felt the need to reply, including the Bishop, Governor Cuomo, and then cast of the View. These responses were predictable, from the "this is a delicate pastoral situation blah, blah, blah" issued by the Bishop to the blatant Catholic-bashing of the usual suspects like Whoopi Goldberg. The tenor in the public square, reinforced by the Bishop's limp-spined response, was that Dr. Peters was being the extremist, and Governor Cuomo the persecuted party.
In my parish, our pastor is gravely concerned about how few people attend Confession. "I must have a parish full of saints!" he exclaims at Mass. "Hardly anyone lining up for Confession, yet every Sunday, everyone coming up for Communion!" He and many of us are equally concerned about vast numbers of fallen away Catholics, some of whom have gone to other churches but most of whom just stay at home, figuring they're doing well enough without the grace of the Sacraments. We're brainstorming about how to reach these people, get them to understand that the stakes are as high as they can get, and help them back into communion with God.
But as long as stuff like this Cuomo business goes on, we're fighting a losing battle.
Look at it: nobody is more responsible for the souls in his care than a bishop. Governor Cuomo makes no bones about the fact that he is living in public concubinage with a woman, which is a mortal sin, which means that according to the Scriptures and Church teaching he "eats and drinks judgement on himself" (1 Cor 11:29) every time he takes Communion. Simply put, he's damning himself further every time he does it. Yet his Bishop just stands there and enables it.
Furthermore, everyone sees this happening. So let's say my pastor is counselling a man who is living in public concubinage about returning to the Church and resuming Communion. My pastor would explain that the man needed to cease sexual union with his girlfriend, go to Confession, and begin moving toward sacramental marriage before he could come up for Communion. Unfortunately, all the man would have to do is point to Governor Cuomo and his Bishop. How could my pastor respond? Or what if a divorced man wants to get remarried and continue going to Communion? Why bother with the time and fuss of an annulment? Governor Cuomo sets the example: just move in together. Not only can you keep going to Communion, you might get a bishop to serve you!
Sadly, we had a similar situation in our Archdiocese some years ago. Our state's governor was Catholic, but was also fiercely pro-abortion. She vetoed every pro-life bill that crossed her desk, and worked to stymie pro-life efforts in the legislature. Yet at the same time, she faithfully attended her parish church, even serving as a Eucharistic Minister from time to time. The past Archbishop never made any kind of comment about this, and though our new Archbishop is much more publicly pro-life, he hasn't done anything about this public scandal, either.
The Catholic Church in America desperately needs renewal. Yet as long as public accommodation of sin by the powerful and well-known persists, we will not see it. We might see small progress here and there, but there will be no serious renewal until Church leaders have the courage to stand for holiness, no matter how upset Whoopi Goldberg or the Detroit Free Press gets about it. The Scriptures speak scornfully of those who wouldn't stand up for Jesus because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. So long as that is the hallmark of the leadership of the Catholic Church in America, we will continue to lose ground in the war for the souls of our nation's citizens – including our own children.