In an unprecedented move, Bishop Anthony Tonnos of Hamilton, Ontario, urged diocesan priests to boycott a banquet sponsored by the city’s St. Joseph Hospital Foundation.
The September 20 fundraising dinner featured Governor Mario Cuomo of New York as guest speaker. In the past Cuomo had legislated state-funded abortions.
In a letter to his priests, first publicly revealed in the Hamilton Spectator of September 17, the 55-year-old Bishop wrote: “I would not like the clergy at the fundraiser, lest their presence be misinterpreted as supporting Cuomo.”
The whistle was blown on Cuomo by pro-lifers. Dr. Carm Scime of Campaign Life Coalition Hamilton, past president of Canadian Physicians for Life and a member of St. Joseph’s Hospital staff, wrote the various parties involved including the Bishop, protesting the selection of such a prominent abortion supporter as the speaker.
Harry De Meester, President of Hamilton Right to Life also wrote a letter of protest.
Dr. Scime quoted a New York source saying that Gov. Cuomo likens himself to Saint Thomas More but acts like Henry VIII. The Hamilton Spectator devoted a full page in its September 19 edition to a long extract from the Governor’s speech, delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 1984, justifying his conduct. There Mr. Cuomo, a Catholic, claims that by following his conscience, he is following in the footsteps of Sir Thomas More.
More, Chancellor of England, .was beheaded by Henry VIII for refusing to accept the King’s divorce approved by parliament, but denied by the Pope of the day. Cuomo supports legalized abortion, a thing denied by the Pope of our day.
The organizer of the banquet, Dr. Michael Newhouse, admitted that over 130 guests had demanded refunds after receiving the letter sent to priests.
Hospital spokesman Hugh Greenwood attempted to justify the presence of Mr. Cuomo, a possible front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the next U.S. presidential election. He described the Governor as a world-class speaker who wouldn’t even mention the abortion question. Moreover, Greenwood said, hospital officials do not believe that Cuomo supports abortion. “It’s our feeling that he has to uphold the law but everything I’ve read says he’s not pro-abortion.”
The New York Post of September 19 carried the banner headline, “Boycott Cuomo speech, Bishop tells priests.” The article gave all the details. Mr. Cuomo received a fee of $30,000.
On the evening concerned, Mr. Cuomo was met by some 85 picketers at the restaurant’s gates. He briefly got out of the car and spoke to some of them, urging them to promote contraceptives. When they laughed, he got back into the car muttering, “You people listen to nothing.”
No priests attended. General attendance estimates, originally set at 1,000 or more were reduced to 700 before the $125. a plate dinner. Some picketers didn’t think that number was actually attained.
The Bishop’s action was a Canadian first, perhaps made more easy because the visitor was from outside the country. Pro-lifers were very pleased that finally a bishop has challenged the custom of Catholic groups in Canada inviting pro-abortion speakers, as if the issue doesn’t matter.