The Transfiguration, the Olympic spirit, and the shamelessness of Andrew Cuomo

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

It may be August, but there’s still news to cover, so let’s talk about that.

They saw Him changed

It might be the dog days of summer, but it’s the feast of the Transfiguration, one of my favorites.

Catholics around the world mark the celebration in different ways —  and Byzantine Catholics have marked the day for centuries by blessing fruit — and eating pie. Read all about it.

Something in Peter’s reaction to the sight of Christ suddenly revealed in his glory really appeals to me. In the Gospel he’s confused, not knowing what to do or say; offering to make a Succoth tent for Christ in the moment he is revealed to be the pillar of fire — the presence of God who goes ahead of us to guide us. 

I’d imagine it was a confusing thing to see on the day, and even harder to recall and make sense of after the fact. When I was living (briefly) in Israel during my (very brief) time in a seminary, the Transfiguration was one of the last feasts I celebrated before leaving, and was fortunate enough to celebrate it on Mount Tabor with the religious community that cares for the church there. 

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My lasting impression of the place, and of my time there, is that I found it easiest to pray there of anywhere in my entire life. Maybe a little bit like the three disciples, I’ve spent the years since trying to remember the vividness of that place and time, and wishing I could have lingered at the top of that mountain a little longer.

Spirit at the games

On the other side of the world, the Olympics carry on, as does the pandemic. The sight of athletes competing in empty stadia has been a strange one, but if spectators cannot get in, it is worth remembering that the athletes themselves are often functionally unable to get out — and are forced to live inside the “Olympic bubble” more than ever before. 

Last month, the Archbishop of Tokyo announced that visiting athletes would not be allowed to come to local churches during the game because of government covid restrictions. Several star athletes - including swimmer Katie Ledecky, gymnast Simone Biles, and runner Sydney McLaughlin - have spoken openly about relying on their Catholic faith as they train and compete. 

This time around, they, and other competitors, have had to rely even more on Catholic chaplains at the games. So who are they? And what does Olympic chaplaincy look like? We talked to an Olympic chaplain — Read the whole thing here.

Worse than a crime?

After the opening day of the Vatican financial trial last month, lawyers for the 10 accused now have until October to regroup and decide how they intended to counter the prosecution’s evidence. While they now have hours of taped testimony from the Promoter of Justice’s star whistleblower to wrestle with, we already know how at least some of the defendants are going to argue against some of the charges they are facing.

Lawyers for the likes of “businessman” Gianluigi Torzi, former Vatican financial watchdog president René Brülhart, and Secretariat of State official Fabrizio Tirabassi have publicly countered accusations of embezzlement, fraud, and abuse of office by insisting not that their clients haven’t done at least some things they’re accused of, but that it was all approved, line by line, by senior Vatican figures like Cardinal Angelo Becciu (also on trial) and Cardinal Pietro Parolin (not on trial).

It seems that, at least in some cases, those attorneys will be able to show that practices which would look like a conflict of interest anywhere else were accepted and approved in the Vatican. 

I wrote on Wednesday about what that might mean for the trial, and what would be worse for the Holy See’s reputation: officials being found breaking the law, or evidence of a culture of “legal” financial misconduct.

Speaking of financial crime, earlier this week the New Jersey Diocese of Metuchen announced it has created a dedicated anonymous tip line for local Catholics to report suspicions of theft and other kinds of money-related misconduct.

Metuchen is one of several dioceses to launch parallel reporting structures for financial matters, similar to those used to report sexual misconduct. JD and I took a look at this and asked if these new systems are signs of the Church proactively applying the lessons learned from recent abuse scandals to other areas of concern.

If dioceses are getting serious about financial misconduct and recognizing the same concerns about a culture of “clericalism” present in other scandals, and doing so unprompted by the glare of external scrutiny or widespread public outcry, that could be a very encouraging sign indeed.

Read the whole thing.

Shameless

In past newsletters, I have paused to consider the famously tactile New York governor Andrew Cuomo. In the light of accusations of serial sexual harassment against Cuomo by women who worked with him, I made the point that such behavior should be considered in the light of his other “signature issues,” most notably the deaths caused in nursing homes by his coronavirus response, and his commitment to legally enshrining abortion on-demand up to the moment of birth.

Valuing a culture of life is, it is often said, a seamless garment. To value every person’s unique worth and dignity means you value their life at every point of that life — in the womb, in the office, and in the nursing home. 

I also noted that a culture of death is its own kind of seamless garment. The kind of man who would light up the skyline of New York to celebrate advancing abortion’s culture of death, and who would order infected patients into nursing homes and juke the death stats to pretend it never happened, is also likely to be the sort of person who doesn’t place a high premium on the dignity of women in his office.

Now, we learn, an independent attorney general’s investigation has returned a damning verdict of Cuomo’s literal handling of the people around him. Calls for his resignation have mounted. Prominent Democrats have had to suffer the embarrassment of reliving their past appearances with the governor, at which they praised his commitment to combating the sexual assault of young women.

His past grandstanding on the rights and dignity of women now seems offensive in its obvious insincerity; it always appeared so to me, juxtaposed with his pro-abortion militancy. 

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Yet Cuomo appears unmoved. His own defense has consisted of offering sympathy for the victims of similar treatment while trying to discredit those he apparently preyed upon. 

The governor has insisted that it’s all a “cultural” misunderstanding, and that among people like him, the unsolicited groping of women is just an innocent gesture of respectful affection.

Cuomo has leaned into a strange kind of stereotype of himself as a demonstrative Italian, though his understanding of “Italian culture” seems demonstrably more “Jersey Shore” than Federico Fellini. 

In truth though, “culture” likely did play a large part in clearing the way for Cuomo’s predations over the years.

He was, and as of the time of writing remains, a man in a powerful office, from an influential family. It’s been widely reported that those who sought to cross him or complain would be subjected to campaigns of professional and personal intimidation. 

The denigration of the lives and dignity of others as a matter of policy — be it in abortion clinics or nursing homes —  fosters a culture of indifference among those who participate in it. “Other people” simply matter less than “us,” whoever “we” may be. And years of ignoring predatory conduct, like that Cuomo is now accused of by his own AG’s office, will surely have coarsened the consciences of those who looked away or lent hands to enable him. As the Church has always taught: no sin is truly private, we cannot offend God without also hurting those around us.

For Cuomo himself, he seems to be without shame or remorse for his actions, and that should not be surprising. The “culture” he has lived and worked in for decades holds that the value of human life is relative, and that different people are of relative value and utility. He has excelled through a politics that trades on this relativism and sustained Cuomo along his way; applauding its application through abortion, abetting the denial of deaths it caused in nursing homes during the pandemic, and excusing its visitation on who knows how many young women around the office.

Cuomo himself may be surprised by the reckoning he now faces, but we should not be.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon

Editor

The Pillar