Last week two New York giants died within days of each other; one a pro-abortion political trailblazer who did much to advance abortion, and the other an auxiliary bishop who left behind him a legacy of life-giving love to handicapped children and their families. The politician is Geraldine Ferraro (my commentary on her right to a funeral mass here), and the bishop, none other than Patrick V. Ahern.
Ferraro was the first woman vice-presidential candidate, and rabidly pro-abortion. She hailed from New York City and her nomination electrified the nation. For as earth-shattering as the idea of a woman on the presidential ticket was, the American people weren’t buying what she was selling and buried Mondale-Ferraro in the largest electoral landslide in American History. The only state they carried was Mondale’s home state. Ferraro couldn’t even carry her home state, liberal New York, the first state to legalize abortion on demand fourteen years earlier. It was a bloodbath.
It was the mid-80′s and New York belonged to John Cardinal O’Connor who famously went after Ferraro and then-Governor Mario Cuomo on their irreconcilable pro-abortion polemics and self-professed Catholicism. I had just entered the college seminary system and had the good fortune to go out to dinner one night with Staten Island’s Vicar, Auxiliary Bishop Ahern. At dinner, the conversation turned to Cuomo and his protestation that as Governor he couldn’t push his own private beliefs and that he was bound by an oath sworn on the Bible to uphold the law of the land. As only young men can do, I looked Bishop Ahern dead in the eye and asked if the Church was suggesting that Cuomo violate his oath. I also asked if the Governor was permitted to allow his private faith into public office. Bishop Ahern’s answer was one for the ages.
He smiled his warm and gracious smile and explained that the Church fully expected the Governor to uphold the law of the land and his constitutional oath. However, Bishop Ahern went on, all politicians work from within the political system, using the machinery of politics to effect what they perceive to be just laws. Cuomo as Governor can work with legislators to get legislation sponsored on any matter he believes to be an injustice in need of remediation. That’s what was done in the Civil Rights movement. That he does not is an indication that he’s being less than honest when he claims to be personally opposed to abortion but unable to act on what he believes to be an injustice.
Bishop Ahern went further. Governor Cuomo is personally opposed to capital punishment, yet repeatedly vetoes any legislation put on his desk for signature, that would reinstate capital punishment. Thus, the Governor shows his duplicity, the same for Ferraro who works to enact legislation on a range of issues that are informed by her conscience.
Now that was greatness. They were a great duo, O’Connor and Ahern. Now they’re gone, along with the rest of their pro-life generation of Bishops, There are few left like them. What we have now are men who cower, fearful of losing our tax exempt status should we proclaim the Gospel of Life and hold our Catholic pro abort politicians to account. Such timidity is a death spiral for the Church.
If we cower for fear of losing our tax-exempt status, then what good does that status avail us? We’ll lose the churches in which we cower and no longer boldly proclaim the Gospel. If we refuse to engage the Culture of Death and deal firmly with Catholic generals in the enemy camp, then we should lose our churches.
Christianity thrives when we don’t cower and count the cost of discipleship. That’s the lesson of Mary and the Apostles. The Church withers and dies when we do. That’s the lesson of the current crop of Bishops.
It’s stand and be counted time. It’s also time to fast and pray for our bishops.