Andrew Cuomo Sacrificed His Catholic Faith for Political Power

COMMENTARY: He will not be greatly missed, but his significance should not be overlooked.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens as Alan Steel, president and CEO of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, speaks during a press conference at the Javits Center in Manhattan on May 11, 2021 in New York City.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens as Alan Steel, president and CEO of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, speaks during a press conference at the Javits Center in Manhattan on May 11, 2021 in New York City. (photo: Michael M. Santiago / Getty)

“Insensitive and off-putting.”

That’s how Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York characterized his own sense of humor in his resignation speech after multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

It could serve as a fitting coda for his entire public life. 

Andrew Cuomo, three times elected governor of New York (2010, 2014, 2018), is the son of the late Mario Cuomo, also elected three times governor of New York (1982, 1986 and 1990, before being defeated for re-election in 1994). Both father and son spent their lives in search of, or holding, political office.

Hyper-ambitious from his youth, Andrew married Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, in 1990, divorcing in 2005. The marriage united the aristocratic Catholic political family from Hyannis Port with the aspiring Catholic political family from Queens. It was hailed at the time as a powerful political force, perhaps a new JFK-era Camelot. They called it “Cuomolot” but by the time it ended — Kennedy asked for a divorce immediately after Cuomo’s failed 2002 bid for governor concluded — it was clear that Cuomo’s political ambition made his Kennedy in-laws regard him as, well, generally insensitive and off-putting.

Andrew Cuomo represented a new generation of the liberal Catholic politician. Mario Cuomo practiced his faith and took the public consequences of that faith seriously. Thus, when he found himself at odds with the clear teaching of the Church on the right to life, he made a public argument to explain his “personally opposed, publicly pro-choice” position. It was an argument more of political convenience than philosophical coherence, but it was an argument. 

Andrew was neither his father’s intellectual nor rhetorical equal, and would not, even if he had tried, been capable of coherent argument in political philosophy, let alone moral philosophy. He didn’t even try. He was grasping — in the metaphorical sense, not only in the groping sense — and only did what was politically necessary. 

His Catholic significance is that he no longer judged it necessary to make arguments about how to reconcile his Catholic faith with his embrace of the extreme abortion license. He simply sacrificed his faith to his politics and got on with the pursuit of power. 

Given current controversies regarding President Joe Biden and Holy Communion, it is instructive to note that there were no such controversies about Andrew Cuomo. President Biden, unlike most Catholics, goes to Mass every Sunday. Cuomo, like most Catholics, does not. Moreover, like a majority of Catholics, he does not organize his marital life according to the teaching and disciplines of the Church. So even if he did go to Mass, given that he was cohabiting with another woman soon after his civil divorce, he should not have received Holy Communion on those grounds. His political positions were superfluous to the analysis. 

Cuomo is typical of a generation that regards its Catholicism as a mere identity, and a rather less important one at that. Cuomo had an array of political identities, emphasizing whichever one was most convenient. Indeed, when the attorney general’s report found credible several allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, including reaching under the shirt of a woman to grope her breast, Cuomo responded that it was a “generational and cultural thing” that he “learned from his mother.” No doubt the widowed octogenarian Matilda Cuomo was surprised to learn that such behavior was part of the Italo-Catholic culture of Queens.

Given Cuomo’s long history of boorish behavior toward women, the identity he found most politically convenient was that of a feminist advocate of the extreme abortion license. He signed into law the most extreme abortion-on-demand law in the nation, and ordered New York City landmarks to be lit up in pink (official color of Planned Parenthood) to celebrate the occasion. 

If pro-life New Yorkers found that insensitive and off-putting, too bad. Indeed, Cuomo’s much-invoked diversity did not include them; he famously said that pro-life supporters did not really fit in to New York and should leave the state.

Cuomo’s towering vanity led him to write a book last summer, when he was being hailed by the liberal establishment as the hero of the pandemic. He won an Emmy Award for his daily pandemic press conferences; the attorney general’s report includes the creepy detail that Cuomo would invite visitors to his office to admire how “buxom” the statuette was. 

Life in elderly care homes was as disposable as life in the womb when it came to advancing Cuomo’s political interests. His pandemic policies caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths in elderly homes, and his office later fudged the numbers to avoid being blamed for it. 

He was the most lethal governor in the history of New York.

Soon he will be the ex-governor, departing in disgrace. A few years back he named the new Tappan Zee Bridge after his father. It was rather transparent that what is now the Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge was intended one day to be the Governors Cuomo Bridge. That too would have been insensitive and off-putting, a fitting memorial for Andrew Cuomo. 

Now that won’t happen, and the future of Andrew Cuomo the presidential candidate won’t happen either. He will not be greatly missed, but his significance should not be overlooked.

Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880

This Sunday, I’ll Be Going to Church. Will You Join Me?

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” [CCC 2181]