From his jail cell where he was serving 15 days in January of this year for rescuing at an abortuary last summer, New York auxiliary Bishop Austin Vaughan has warned New York Governor Mario Cuomo that his pro-abortion position puts him in danger of going “straight to Hell if he is to die today.”

Cuomo, a Catholic, has held the view until now – similar to that of a number of Canadian politicians – namely that “while he is personally opposed to abortion, he can’t do anything to stop abortions.” In other words Cuomo, like others of a similar cast of mind, usually supports pro-abortion legislation.

In November of last year the American Bishops Conference meeting in Baltimore declared that no Catholic may call him or herself “pro-choice,” that is, hold the view that “abortion is a woman’s right.” This position is even more radical than the “I am personally opposed but cannot impose my personal views on others” stand. In practice, however, both lead to support for pro-abortion measures.

I think for a believing educated Catholic to take the position he’s taking, he takes a very serious risk of going straight to Hell,” said the veteran of numerous rescues.

Bishop Vaughan compared Cuomo to a Nazi soldier who “may have objected to the Holocaust but nevertheless supported the German government’s right to murder six million Jews.”

“Abortion is an unspeakable crime,” Vaughan continued. “This is an unchanged and unchanging teaching of the Church. And Governor Cuomo has fought harder for abortion than anybody in New York state.”

He said that Cuomo’s “personally opposed” position is “absolutely contradictory.

Governor Cuomo

With Bishop Vaughan still in jail, Governor Cuomo claimed that his support of abortion rights was entirely consistent with Catholic theology. Declared Cuomo at a press conference: “I think my soul will be judged, like yours. And like the Bishop’s by a higher and wiser power than the bishop.

The governor revealed the more radical nature of his position for the first time by stating, “Women have a right to an abortion, and I will protect that right as well as I will protect his right to curse me. He would have God attack our pluralistic democracy. I think he’s dead wrong.”

The governor then made his claim that “My position on abortion has been checked with every theologian of repute that I could find and it’s absolutely sound.” Let one week later he still had not given any names. However, by this time ex-priest and notorious abortion advocate Daniel Maguire had come to the Governor’s aid by publishing in the New York Times a defence of his position and an attack on that of Bishop Vaughan.

Maguire teaches moral theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee and is a founder, together with his wife Marjorie, of “Catholics for Choice.”

His wife has made several trips to Canada in support of Morgentaler. Like Morgentaler, Daniel Maguire has referred to pro-life people as fascists and Nazi-like goons.

Governor Cuomo also pointed out that Bishop Vaughan is “not my bishop,” emphasizing that his residence is in territory under Brooklyn Bishop Francis Mugavero. Bishop Mugavero’s comment soon followed:

“The statement which the press has attributed to Bishop Vaughan troubles me because I do not think we are in a position to judge the final punishment a person will receive…We must leave that in the hands of a merciful God.”

Bishop Vaughan promptly agreed with Bishop Mugavero that only God can pass judgment, pointing out, however, that he had not issued a judgment, but a warning – a very different thing. For good measure he repeated it, stating, “We have come to a point where you have to call a spade a spade or else I’m contributing to his going to Hell. Governor Cuomo is our New York problem. There are a huge number of Catholic politicians in this country whose public positions are as bad or worse.”

Cardinal O’Connor

Finally, Cardinal O’Connor, in his regular column in his diocesan paper Catholic New York defended Bishop Austin Vaughan. Noting that the Bishop is “one of the finest theologians going,” he rebuked Cuomo for having twisted the Bishop’s warning into a curse (and judgment).

The Bishop, he said, had not only the right but the obligation “to warn any Catholic that his soul is at risk if he should die while deliberately pursuing any gravely evil course of action and that such would certainly include advocating publicly, as the Bishop puts it, “the right of a woman to kill a child.”


Clearly, this controversy has a direct bearing on the situation in Canada. Canadian Catholics who publicly hold the position that “abortion is a woman’s right” are former feminist activist and columnist Laura Sabia, former Ottawa mayor and former NDP MP, Marion Dewar, current Member of Parliament Mary Clancy (Lib. Halifax), and Jean Chretien candidate for the Liberal leadership.

The milder position – “I am personally opposed, but …” – which tends to come to the same practical conclusion is held by Liberal leadership candidates Paul Martin and Sheils Copps and many others.