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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

May 16, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 30




Joe Feuerherd Conversing with Cuomo

By Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent

I reach Mario Cuomo and describe what I'd like to talk about -- a piece I'm writing on how the church interacts with Catholic politicians. He's happy to talk but is about to start a meeting so he'll have to call me back. In the meantime, he instructs, do your homework and read up on John Courtney Murray and the documents of Vatican II.

Twelve years ago, Mario Cuomo was the hottest political story there was: Would he or wouldn't he run for president? Among those grateful that he didn't was a young Arkansas governor of great ambition.

A decade later, his failed 1994 bid for a fourth term as New York Governor behind him, Cuomo remains on top of his game. He dissects an argument, and challenges his interlocutor, with the precision of the law school professor he once was.

A sample:

Cuomo: ... [at] all times [the church] insists that you the Catholic live up to [its teachings], but sometimes it goes beyond that and says "and you must see to it to the extent that you can that everybody else lives up to it." Now they don't do that with divorce laws, of course, and a lot of other rules that are not regarded as fundamental. But the life issues like contraceptives, death penalty and abortion have all been handled differently, and differently at different times.

Am I mistaken that Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, [and] Jerome all said that life began after 40 days? Are they banned from the canon of saints?

NCR: Is there ...

Cuomo: Excuse me, I didn't get an answer.

NCR: It's my understanding that they are saints in good standing.

Cuomo: It gets confusing for some of us.

NCR: To further confuse things [in 1998 the U.S. bishops issued a statement] which said: "No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life."

Cuomo: Or wars.

NCR: No, apparently not.

Cuomo: Wait a minute ... hold it a second. Read that to me again.

NCR: No public official ...

Cuomo: Okay, I got that.

NCR: ... especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic…

Cuomo: That's unfortunate language -- who's dumb enough to say "I'm a faithful." Okay, go ahead …

NCR: ... can responsibly advocate for, or actively support, direct attacks on innocent human life?

Cuomo: Didn't we just do that in Iraq? ... That's exactly what we did in Iraq. We just said that we must kill innocent people -- we're not going to try to kill them, but they will die. Then the question becomes is it a justified killing? I didn't hear the church say it was justified. Did you?

NCR: I did not, no.

After a half-hour on the phone with Mario Cuomo one is left with several impressions, not least of which is that the Democrats could do a lot worse in 2004 than the formidable former governor.

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