About Author

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Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut Action, a Hartford-based advocacy organization whose mission is to encourage and strengthen the family as the foundation of society. His work has appeared in The Hartford Courant, the Waterbury Republican-American, Crisis Magazine, Columbia Magazine, the National Catholic Register, The Stream, CatholicVote, and Ethika Politika. He lives in Waterbury, Conn., with his wife and their seven children. The views expressed here are his own.

41 Comments

  1. Sometimes , excommunication is just right. You do the right thing no matter what. There are good Protestants that are looking for leadership.

  2. I agree with the author that excommunication would not effect cultural Catholics. However, abortion is largely ignored in our Church. If it wasn’t for the Respect Life Committee persistence in bringing this issue to the laity, the priests would rather ignore it. Many of the priests themselves vote for these pro-abortion candidates because they identify themselves as seamless garment people. They have told me this. We need excommunication because of the Catholics in the pews need to know that abortion is an intrinsic evil. The Church needs to do it’s part. I know that I am in the public square and in my local church.

    • Thank you Bob for your comments. I agree.. I’ve read a lot of your comments. Who voted for Como. Guess. Catholics. Abortion is evil. Why would any Christian believe otherwise. Murder is murder. Thou shalt not kill. We have people in prison who have taken a life yet a law allows women to kill their own children. We are a sick society. My solution is vote the evil doers out. And Boycott New York. Money funds the big abortion industry. Boycott any state that trys to pass killing laws. And go into the streets and protest.

    • Lawrence A P Wilson on

      Absolutely correct. The excommunication action should be taken because it is the right step in accordance with Canon Law, and, because it publicly demonstrates to all and sundry that there is clear line in respect of killing the unborn which will not be crossed by the Catholic Church.

      That such action will not prevent future acts of evil by the political classes is to be expected, but is not a valid reason to not apply the required publicly visible Church sanction.

      The Catholic Church hierarchy is already in tatters requiring drastic and sustained actions for recovery – further wimpish failure by the hierarchy in this infanticide matter will further demonstrate that our hierarchy stands for nothing of principle.

  3. Sylvia Murdolo on

    You are absolutely right Mr. Wolfgang. I challenged my little group of CDA sisters yesterday to stand up ourselves and confront the horrors of the NYS RHA. How did it happen anyway? Because people like me kept “speaking to the Choir” leaving the demonstration to others. I intend to carry out my promise that once I was just a woman of faith but now I’m moved to become a Woman of Action. Help me Lord for I seek to do Your Will.

  4. Chris Chambers on

    I prefer tarring and feathering wayward priests and bishops, but I haven’t the nerve to go it alone, and I haven’t found anyone to help me.
    Your suggestions appear to be more wise.

  5. “The tendency to think a good excommunication might have the desired political effect on this crowd is a result of being too much in the Catholic bubble.”

    “Political effect”?
    What about the “Spiritual Effect”? What about the effect of not being clear? Of deluding the faithful? Being weak? Yukking it up with politicians as though the direct killing effect is no big deal? It’s not the absence of a political effect you and the bishop abhor, it’s the hint of the persecution that may bring. The cancellation of the St. Patrick day’s parade. If I am in a “bubble” for thinking that spirit is more important than flesh, so be it.

  6. God bless the author for being so involved in an organization that supports the family. However, if the faithful remnant of orthodox Catholics really is only 1.2 million Catholics in the United States, we should be encouraged in our faith knowing that our priests and bishops are orthodox, as well. Excommunication of Gov. Cuomo helps to avoid scandalizing the 1.2 million and it could have a redemptive effect on Gov. Cuomo. The former is more likely than the latter, I assume, but that is enough reason for Cardinal Dolan to do his job. On the other hand, the bishop of the diocese where Albany, NY, is could also excommunicate the Governor.

  7. I’ve found that I can speak out against an evil politician until I’m blue in the face and the people who need to listen don’t, because I’m just li’l ol’ me. The duty of the laity is to act in the world. The duty of the clergy is to teach and lead the laity.

    Could the lack of lay activity stem from the lack of clerical clarity? I think so.

    To the author’s point, if the clergy are derelict, the laity still has to go ahead without them, but I don’t think we’re asking the clergy to do our jobs. We would, however, like them to do theirs.

  8. Michael Kirwan on

    Mr. Wolfgang
    I can certainly agree with most of what you say, the gist being that most, ie more than 50%, of Catholics do not care about Catholic Orthodoxy while in the voting booth. I feel that this group, while they may refer to themselves as Catholic, have jettisoned their Faith for whatever reason. Same applies to many Catholics who attend Mass regularly. Their behinds are in the pew but their minds are formed by the culture.
    I also agree that the laity are lax in their failure to act denouncing our politicians.
    None of this excuses the Dolans in our Church. The shepherd leads and the sheep follow. Failure to denounce a law defying Catholic teaching or failing to denounce a Catholic politician supporting, or worse originating such a law can be misconstrued as support or at least indifference to such a law.
    The actions and statements of Pelosi, Biden, Cuomo, Kane, Sibelius, Melinda Gates and other Catholics in influential roles make them by default ex communion with Church teaching.
    What’s the problem with officially declaring them Excommunicate. Failure to do so can be taken as a silent endorsement of the person or the law.
    Dolan’s coziness with Obama and Cuomo is very disturbing.
    I don’t doubt the difficulty of his office and all the good he does.
    In England, John Fisher was the only Bishop who stood against Henry VIII in defense of the sanctity of Marriage and it cost him his life. All the others lived by caving to the pressure.
    Thomas More, the only politician who stood firm also lost his life.
    God send us one bishop like Fisher or one politician like More.
    In the mean time I’ll pray for Dolan.

    • Michael Kirwan, you hit the nail on the head. I have asked myself, where would the good bishop be if he lived with King Henry VIII. Alive with the church of England, or??? Some of what he says appears to imply John Fisher was foolish. So, Michael Kirwan, keep up the good analysis and replies, which are so appropriate. God bless you. Jerry

  9. I agree as laity we need to be more aggressive, but, we cannot do it alone. Priests, Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals need to lead and set the example, and put on their spiritual armor and get their heads in the fight. Wars are not won because we rely only on the foot soldier; it is one by a concerted effort of leadership at all levels and bringing to bear all available resources to overwhelm and destroy the relentless efforts of the culture of death.

  10. I think that is a both/and scenario. But by and large I agree with the authors comments. We can/should call on Bishops to set the spiritual record straight (though they rarely do) and as laity we should work harder to impact the secular sphere. It’s just easier to rant and rave than to work for change. MY issue is like you experienced, the small group of 1.2 subculture Catholics don’t create a local voice loud enough to move the needle frequently. I think some basic ‘tactical training’ on leveraging various methods to have a louder voice would be helpful. Kind of an ‘activist toolkit’. Thanks for the article.

  11. When our leaders are in bed with evil….and some of the leaders are evil itself it causes a weakening of faith that has far-reaching effects. Yes, we must do our job no matter what but it is naive at best to think when leaders like Dolan say “BRAVO” to mortal sin (as in the Michael Sam Case) or publically celebrate baby killers (as in the Palm Sunday Biden case) that it will not have an effect on souls.

  12. As I wrote in my letter to my Archbishop after the Pope belatedly removed any possible decision making and position taking from the US Conference of Bishops in Baltimore after the bishops had spent time and money getting to Baltimore…….”Leaders Lead” …..when there is a fork in the road, someone will pick the better fork and hopefully that Leader will have the respect of the majority and they will follow. What Cardinal Dolan has shown the world (Catholics and non-Catholics) is that there is no leadership in his office and to hide behind a statement of “it won’t change him (Cuomo) ” is weak and wrong. Leaders may win popularity contests, but they must be right or there will be few left to be led. Mr Wolfgang is a respected and rightly so Catholic. So are many others in the Church and many want a leader !

  13. Dear Peter,

    I appreciate your sentiment, but have to disagree, due to my own experiences as a lay Catholic in the prolife movement and a parish staff member. My point is two-fold: first, leadership sets the tone. You can’t have an effective team without an effective coach to train, lead and even discipline at times. Think of the movie Remember the Titans. Second, ineffective leadership undermines those who do try, and makes their efforts futile. That’s why ineffective coaches get fired. Or ineffective politicians get voted out. But this failure to lead – in Catholic terms not only to teach and sanctify but to govern – is exactly what we’ve been living with for decades. Only our bishops don’t get fired or voted out for refusing to govern. They get rewarded by climbing the ecclesiastical ladder. And by govern I don’t mean govern the world, but govern the flock itself. Our flock is in disarray, like sheep without a shepherd (and worse, in case of sex abuse, like sheep where the wolves are let in).

    I will give you two examples to illustrate my point. First on the matter of prolife activism. I served on my state’s Right to Life Committee. We worked hard to get legislation passed. In one case I remember well, our bishop, a conservative bishop who’s name you’d recognize, spoke out publicly on behalf of the legislation. But the legislation failed after several Catholic legislators voted against it. And the bishop did nothing. Those legislators continued to receive communion like normal. To make matters worse, a popular local priest who’d spoken out about it and named the Catholic legislators received death threats – and the bishop still did nothing. Silence. So all his public support amounted to so much hot air, all bark and no bite, and those of us who’d worked so hard felt like we’d had our legs cut out from under us. How can we be effective, when our bishops fail to act, year after year letting errant Catholics go uncorrected and do whatever they want? We are like a disorganized team on the field with a coach who runs away when the going gets rough. Our bishops refuse to govern, and it has led not only to ineffectiveness in the world, but to the demise of the Church itself. Just look at the rapidly declining numbers. The blame lies at the feet of the our spineless bishops, including the “conservative” ones who talk a good line, but do nothing (and ours was later promoted to a bigger, more important diocese). And the Popes, whose failed policies have set the stage for this debacle. But that’s another topic.

    Second example: as a new Catholic I was hired to be a parish music director, which included playing for weddings. To my shock, during those years all the couples I played for were already living together, except one. They just had to go to confession the night before and it was all okay. I felt like I was complicit in sin, asked my pastor why he allowed that, and he said he didn’t like it, but it was the bishop’s policy. My former church required live-in couples to separate for at least a couple of months prior to the wedding, or they weren’t allowed to get married in our church. Which meant very few couples moved in together before marriage, because they knew they couldn’t get away with it.

    And that’s the problem. Catholics do bad things because they can, because the bishops refuse to govern, period. They vote pro-choice, they live together, use artificial birth control, support gay marriage, because they can. Nobody stops them. The buck stops with the bishop, but the bishop just blows hot air and runs away. Where it will end I do not know, but prepare yourself, because a big collapse of the Church is coming and bishops just hide their hands in the sand.

    But there is one respect in which I agree with you: the laity need to do their job. But I don’t mean in the world. I mean in the Church. In the early Church, laity rioted over bad bishops and threw them out, and made sure only good men were appointed. We need to go back to those days and throw these feckless bums out, demand only good men, real men (not effeminates), be our leaders. We have been neutered by clericalism and our children bent over for perverts. Early Christians rioted over bad bishops and put abusive clergy in public stocks for derision. That is historical fact. But I don’t think we will go back to those days. We’re too far gone, too ignorant and brainwashed, and too permeated with clericalism. The Church will have to collapse first and undergo massive purification.

    And I’m not sure how effective even that will be. Like Jesus said, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luk 18:8 RSV) So look to your own soul, and get ready. From the looks of our culture, we may soon be entering into Book of Revelation-style times, and a spiritual battle where only deep spiritual weapons, deep prayer, fasting and repentance, will have any effect.

  14. I joined the Church 20+ years ago. While I do agree that the faithful can influence the public square in their community, I also think that it is a scandal that many church leaders remain silent when Catholic politicians support laws that are contrary to Catholic teaching. Our leaders should lead by example. We are in the mess we are in because too many leaders don’t lead but remain silent; silence is tacit approval.

  15. Dave has got it right. What our bishops seem to be missing is what signal it sends: If you are a Catholic politician that is an “enabler” of abortion, “No Problemo”.. We need all the help we can get, and it would be nice for our bishops to make some examples of some people. Yes, we need to change things at the ballot box but that takes time. Abortion is an immediate problem. Babies die every day. Our clergy needs to begin to act like it.

  16. It would be much easier to have an influence on local political party candidate selection if we could say that the Bishop excommuniated a politicuian for supportuing abortion. Therfor We need to nominate someone else.

  17. I completely agree with David regarding the spiritual effect. Also, there may be a Catholic bubble, but these things do hit the news. Just do a quick Google search for both “cnn.com cuomo dolan” and “foxnews.com dolan cuomo” – millions of people are seeing what our bishops are doing or not doing, not just informed and serious Catholics.

  18. Denial of Communion is NOT merely a good idea. It is MANDATED by Canon 915. Since ignoring Canon 915 is always a cause of grave scandal, ignoring Canon 915 is a mortal sin.

    McCarrick and Wuerl have succeeded in normalizing many mortal sins–and one of those is choosing NOT to obey Canon 915.

    All bishops and pastors who allow pro-abortion Catholics to receive Communion are choosing to live habitually in the state of mortal sin.

  19. I’m clergy and also British. My own view is to avoid seeking excommunication and rather looking for conversation/dialogue so as maybe to persuade the other party to discover the teaching and meaning of Catholic doctrine; and/or for me to have to examine what I believe and why and to be able to defend it against someone who is maybe hostile to it (and at the beginning of the hypothetical conversation genuinely so).

    A post script to this in the context of scandals plaguing our Church is I believe always to preach Jesus Christ and to have faith in Him alone. Belief in the Church in troubled times is because He is its Head and Founder. Our troubles remain large, but they are ‘family troubles’ and He and us are part of the same household.

    • At this juncture, Cuomo is now calling out the Cardinal/the Church in public on this.

      Evidently, you can rile Dolan to a public response if you infer that he is “right-wing”, as he finally made a public response to Cuomo.

      I think it’s perfectly OK to think that Dolan would do his job, show leadership and excommunicate Cuomo.

      I know he (Dolan) may miss some free dinners, but we all have a cross to bear.

  20. Thank you for linking the individual state family councils. I just took the time to view their site (kinda lame, but now i have contact) and i signed up to receive information . Also i was able to see the family-related legislation that is current. That was enlightening. Not sure what will come of it but i may be stirred to action in the near future if i hear from God telling me to do something.

  21. Ted Langenfeld on

    I agree that the laity can’t wait for our Church leaders to act. Unfortunately,
    there aren’t enough lay Catholics who want to be bothered by what’s going on. If they cared we wouldn’t have uninspiring liturgies with altar servers who play with their cinctures, congregations who dress for what they’re doing AFTER Mass instead of
    FOR Mass, priests who think they need to improvise with the Red and Black of the sacrementary and hymns that don’t have a tune that can followed.
    Most Catholics don’t know they can have so much more!

  22. I think many Catholics have given up and just drifted away with a what’s the use? Attitude. No matter how evil, bishops can never muster any response except being “saddened,” as Cardinal Laughing Man said. They tell the lukewarm it’s no big deal and they tell the fervent it’s no use. Vote for the party of Death- we do.

  23. I agree with the commentor who said this is a both/and situation. Because you do not think a reprimand will not correct someone does not mean you ignore the transgression. Cuomo should probably be excommunicated, but that alone would not excuse Catholics or their Bishop or priests from also dealing with the issue. At the present time to vote for the Democratic party puts ones soul in serious jeopardy and he or she should not receive Communion until they go to Confession and amend their ways. This should be taught weekly in homilies and meetings in the Church. Until bishops and priests begin to take on the character of saints, and lay Catholics modify their behavior, there will be no solution to those issues which involve essential evils.

  24. A lot of us in the “tiny subculture of the Catholic Faithful” are active politically and are doing the things you suggest. The problem is that we are a minority of the Catholic voters and the majority of them don’t have a clue about things Catholic. They also don’t want to hear anything that goes against their pro-choice, pro-gay, environmental concerns, open immigration, etc issues. These things are not being addressed from the pulpit which is the only place they might hear something to awaken their Catholic consciences–that is if they even go to mass any more. No–the problem is not with the tiny subculture–we do what we can to get involved and influence our sphere but it is not enough. It’s not enough because bishops and priests are not addressing the social issues that need to be addressed to educate their flocks so that they know what they should be voting for.

  25. If the Bishops and the other higher-ups had done their job, there would have been none of this paedophilia going on. And the nuns would have been safe from predatory priests and bishops. What is so hard to understand this? Why is this still an issue, Oh, to protect the Cardinals and the Pope

  26. At this late date, excommunication probably would not achieve the wished-for political result, but there is more to the Christian life than political results. St. Paul also did not know for sure whether the adulterous Corinthian would repent if excommunicated, but he ordered the Corinthians to throw the man out anyway, regardless of their objections. And he did repent, probably to the surprise of many people.

    • Correct here-

      I don’t think that prognostication of the results of the excommunication upon the excommunicant (i.e. will he/she repent or not) is a factor in whether or not to levy the penalty.

  27. There is also a need for the Bishops to authorize or compel, as the case may be, homilies on Catholic Doctrine. We had a period of time when too much emphasis was placed on corporal acts of mercy, and not enough instruction given regarding the tenets of our faith.We must remember that the days of Catholic Schools, especially high schools, are fading. There is a real need, not adequately covered by Religious education classes on Sundays, to explaining show the history of major tenets of our faith, starting with the explication of the ten commandments and including the Commandments of the Church. Then additional homilies in addition should cover in depth the Catholic positions on marriage, Courtship, and Abortion. While it is nice to say don’t dwell on the negative, these doctrines are positive influence on the lives of catholics observing them, and often lead to a more prayerful approach to the Church and its Sacraments.

  28. I would redefine clericalism as the giving of excessive honor and place to the clergy, and not recognizing that all Christians need to hold up the Head of the Body which is Christ Himself (Colossians 2:19). If everyone did this, there would be less trauma when clergymen do not live up to expectation.
    Vatican II makes a remarkable statement about the importance of all of the people in the Church. Lumen Gentium 12 says: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, (111) [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) [Cf. 1 Cor. 10: 17] they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth.”
    Vatican II has already defined the individual’s place in the Church; and there is no room for clericalism.

  29. I agree with the many commenters who have cited the “tiny subculture of Catholic Faithful” who are indeed trying to do their part in building up the Church. But we often feel like we are fighting a losing battle when our bishops do nothing to encourage lay participation. Take one example: the pro-life movement has been led by the laity for over 45 years, how many bishops do we see marching in January every year? Most of us can probably count on one hand the number of diocese in the U.S. where we have ever heard a homily preached on the evils of abortion or contraception. Do we ever hear a homily preached on the beauty of chastity? Politics in the public square, oh please. Our council of bishops of the U.S. get together and publish a pamphlet extolling the virtues of conscience when entering the ballot box. Back in the 1990’s, when my son was in a Catholic elementary school he told his teacher that Mr. Clinton was a baby killer and her (educated?) response to him was that Mr. Bush didn’t care about poor people. At the time Clinton wanted abortions to be rare but then he turned around and passed laws protecting “partial birth abortion”. So, I guess my sons Catholic school teacher would rather “poor people” be aborted than go hungry. This same woman was all for saving the earth and the baby seals and every other nutty politically correct issue. Mr. Wolfgang there are only so many battles that the tiny subculture of faithful Catholics can fight at any one time. Especially when there is little to no encouragement from those who are responsible for leading us in the Faith.

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