NRL News

Mario Cuomo: Rest in Peace

by | Jan 5, 2015


By Dave Andrusko

Mario Cuomo

Mario Cuomo

If you are of a certain age, the name “Cuomo” likely resonates, in a political sense, only with Andrew Cuomo, the recently re-elected pro-abortion governor of New York. Those of us who’ve been around the block many more times think first of his father, Mario Cuomo, the three-time pro-abortion governor the same state, who passed away New Year’s Day.

No doubt, you can say many positive things about Cuomo, who was 82 when he passed away. But those are outside the realm of the abortion issue. What follows is neither a tribute nor a condemnation in any personal sense. It is a simply a brief reflection on a man whose influence—in a negative sense, in the view of pro-lifers—can likely not be exaggerated.

The late Mr. Cuomo fine-tuned the “personally opposed” argument to an almost perfect pitch. But he went much further. He cleared the way for pro-abortion Catholics politicians, most of whom were Democrats, by insisting that for them to publicly oppose abortion was akin to imposing Catholic thinking on the American people. The onus was on Catholic politicians who sought to save the babies.

Cuomo’s very public face-offs with the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York were legendary. O’Connor’s disagreements with Walter Mondale’s choice for vice president in 1984—pro-abortion Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro –were no less intense.

O’Connor said Ferraro had had said “things about abortion relevant to Catholic teaching which are not true.”

When Ferraro demurred, O’Connor cited the letter she had signed and sent earlier to fifty Catholic members of Congress, arguing that the existence of pro-abortion organization “Catholics For a Free Choice” “shows us that the Catholic position on abortion is not monolithic and that there can be a range of personal and political responses to the issue.”

After the 1984 Democratic National Convention O’Connor insisted that he had nothing personal against Ferraro nor was he getting involved in politics.

“I have absolutely nothing against Geraldine Ferraro; I will not tell anybody in the United States you should vote for or against [her] or anybody else. . . . She has given the world to understand that Catholic teaching is divided on the subject of abortion [when there is] no variance, no flexibility, no leeway.” [1]

That prompted Mario Cuomo to deliver his famous 1984 speech at Notre Dame, “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective.” His argument took many routes but all ended at the same destination: the absence of a clear-cut consensus meant that “legal interdicting of all abortions by either the federal government or the individual states is not a plausible possibility and, even if it could be obtained, it wouldn’t work.”

In an article for the National Catholic Register, Joan Frawley Desmond wrote

Cuomo’s 1984 Notre Dame speech was “the single most influential statement about abortion by any Catholic figure since Roe v. Wade,” R.R. “Rusty” Reno, editor of First Things, told the Register.

“With a reputation as a serious Catholic, Cuomo’s justification for abortion rights effectively ended the debate about abortion in the Democratic Party. His speech implied that no thinking Catholic concerned about the common good would object to unrestricted legal access to abortion.”

Reno also suggested that Cuomo’s argument “empowered abortion rights advocates to silence what remained of Catholic dissent in the Democratic Party. Bob Casey could be prohibited from speaking to the 1992 Democratic convention in large part because Cuomo had provided the ‘official’ Catholic Democratic pro-abortion position.”

Cuomo “had found, in consensus and prudence, a way of having religion when he wanted it to, not having it when he didn’t,” according to historian Richard Brookhiser.

Just two quick observations. First, the “consensus” against abortion that Cuomo said did not exist—could that be at least in part the result of silver-tongued orators like Cuomo? We have no reason to doubt that he was “personally opposed” to abortion but where is the evidence he ever tried to move the public toward that consensus?

Second, while this was an in-house battle among Catholics, it obviously had far-reaching implications for the body politic way that extended well beyond the Catholic community—or to any communities of faith or people of no faith.

It opened a convenient line of defense for pro-abortionists that lingers to this day: if right policy coincides with the values of a given religious community, it should be, by definition, suspect. That this is specious, on the one hand, and irrelevant on the other (people of faith oppose murder and bank robbery—should laws again those crimes be in the docket?).

Our condolences go out to Mario Cuomo’s family.

Categories: Politics