There is an event from the life of the Servant of God Cardinal Terence Cooke which I would like to share with you - one which has an interesting lesson for us in these times. Cardinal Cooke lived in a difficult age. As a Catholic pastor he tried to proclaim the Gospel faithfully in the midst of the worse excesses of the sexual revolution, in a city that was in decay, not just physically, but morally and spiritually. As Archbishop of New York he was, for all intents and purposes the leader of American Catholicism, and so when it came to various issues the whole country looked to him.
In April 1970 the New York State legislature passed an abortion bill, but in a manner that proved controversial and, according to the biographers of Cardinal Cooke, treacherous. The Cardinal, in his dealings with the State, believed that a informed electorate should influence legislators. As a priest and bishop he did not wade into political matters, however he did accept that he had the right to inform the electorate about issues which related to life and morality, and he did so as any responsible pastor would. When it came to his bill he reminded the faithful that it was repugnant on a human level and on a moral level. Those pushing the bill were not pleased, and when they looked at the numbers in the legislators they saw that many had listening to the Cardinal's arguments and seemed ready to vote against the bill.
Then something strange happened. On the morning of the 10th April 1970 a rumour began to circulate: the Cardinal had done a deal with the Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller: the Cardinal would "soft-pedal opposition" to the abortion issue in return for the safe passage of legislation concerning Catholic schools. Pro-life advocates who were picketing outside were informed by an unknown official that the Cardinal did not want a protest outside the State Capitol and told to go home. Meanwhile members of the legislature who were struggling with their consciences found a way out of their struggle, and so when the bill came before the house it was passed 31 to 29.
Now no deal had been done: Cardinal Cooke would never have made such an arrangement - to do so would, in his mind, be an act of betrayal to the unborn. When news of what had happened got to him, the normally mild mannered and gentle man was furious. He was advised to expose the lie and attack the Governor whom, it was suspected, had a hand in it. But that was not the Cardinal's way. He did attack the bill, he later called for a boycott of the abortion law and issued a Pastoral Letter condemning the legislation and the practice of abortion. He also established new pastoral initiatives to assist women with crisis pregnancies and those who had abortions and were now suffering the trauma which results from it. It also became clear that the rumour was actually a lie.
Soon afterwards the Cardinal was due to attend a dinner in Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in which Governor Rockefeller was to be an honoured guest. This was his opportunity: he refused the invitation, but sent two Monsignori instead. They arrived, passed on the Cardinal's greetings, but were instructed that when the governor arrived, they were to walk out, and they did so. The message was given loud and clear.
Petty? No, I think it was very wise. Cardinal Cooke was not a man for conflict - he was no Blessed Clemens von Galen, but he had his own way of making a point, and given that he was admired by all for his holiness, people got the message very quickly. The Cardinal was deeply hurt by what had been done, but he also understood that he had to be careful with politicians. They are the ultimate opportunists and will try and communicate their message to their voters in whatever way they can. That can be positive. However, when a politician is doing something which is wrong, he or she will try and repackage it in a way that shows him or her in a positive light. Cardinal Cooke was aware of the power of the image, and so he knew that if a photograph was taken of him with the governor it would be used to the governor's advantage, give credence to the rumour and indicate that "in spite of differences, we're all still friends, and things will be alright - no big deal". The Cardinal was not going to fall for that.
Why do I tell this story? I do so because yesterday at Knock the politician, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is trying to force legislation on abortion through, did what Governor Rockefeller wanted to do: he posed with a Catholic Archbishop, all friendly and pally and communicated the message that, in spite of differences, we are all friends and, at the end of the day, things are still the same, nothing has changed. The media broadcast this image all day and it has undermined the Catholic Church's opposition to the abortion bill. Indeed, watching footage on the news, it is obvious that the Archbishop was making his way over to greet the Taoiseach, queuing up to shake hands with him.
A word of advice: please, bishops, priests, lay faithful: in these days be very careful with our pro-abortion TDs and Senators. They know they are doing something which is repugnant to most Irish people and they want something to hold on to, not only to save their careers, but also to legitimise what they are doing. They will want to communicate that all will well and we'll get over this - they want to normalise - but must not let them do that.
There is a problem at the heart of Irish political life - a politician ties to catagorize his or her life: they do their legislating and then when they clock out expect to have normal relations with people, even those they are betraying. So, a politician can vote for abortion and then hug and kiss the local bishop or parish priest at a GAA event. Or, another example: a politician can vote for abortion and then turn up at Mass and receive Communion, be praised by local clergy and be invited to preside at Church social functions. While we do not want to be uncharitable and unchristian, prudence and consistency would dictate that this should not happen.
Cardinal Cooke offers us a marvellous example on how to deal with pro-abortion politicians - he never renounced his Christianity, but he was no fool either. He was pastoral, but he had to deal with members of his flock who did things which were repugnant to human life and faith. The time has come for the Catholic Church in Ireland to get real and realise that the pally-pally relationship with government and politicians may well be over, and that "normalisation" may well play into the hands of those who are committed to the destruction of life and the Church. The Lord's teaching on doves and serpents now applies.