What Did Boston Diocesan Official Advise Mario Cuomo for 1984 Notre Dame Speech?

The comment made by VP Joe Biden in the debate, “I can believe what the Church believes in my personal life, and not my public life” really gets under the skin of many faithful Catholics. What many people may not know is that Fr. Bryan Hehir, Secretary of Health and Social Services, and a senior aide to Cardinal O’Malley has some history of helping a prominent Catholic politician advance that same position. Since Fr. Hehir was a guest speaker  at Sacred Heart in Quincy, on Thursday night on the topic of “Election Discussion,” and  in view of the question of religion asked in the vice presidential debate tonight, BCI thought it would be timely to share with our readers a bit of history sent our way you may find of interest.

The bulletin and calendar notice in The Pilot said: “Fr. Hehir is a nationally recognized authority on social justice and the Church. He will speak about important issues facing voters in the upcoming election, looking at these issues from the perspective of Catholic social teaching.” Question is, what perspective of Catholic social teaching is Fr. Hehir advancing?  You might reach your own conclusion based on a few things Fr. Hehir has written or said in the past. We go back to 1974 and 1984 for historical perspective.

In 1974, Fr. Hehir was associate secretary for the International Justice and Peace office at what was then known as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (or U.S. Catholic Conference). It was the United Nations Population Year, and the Third World Population Conference was organized by the UN and held in Bucharest, Romania in August 1974. The Holy See, represented by then Archbishop Edouard Gagnon, was rallying Third World countries against population control mandates urged by the Henry Kissinger National Security Study Memorandum 200. Fr. Hehir instead urged the Holy See to take a “low profile” regarding means of population control. Fr. Hehir wrote this article, “THE CHURCH AND THE POPULATION YEAR: NOTES ON A STRATEGY” in Theological Studies which formed the position of Catholic bishops and the Vatican at the UN Population Conference:

“…the Church should not oppose nor seek to prohibit public authorities from designing and implementing policies which employ a range of contraceptive techniques. In other words, save for the issues of abortion and sterilization, the strategy of the Church would be to regard contraceptive practice as an issue of private morality which the Church continues to teach for its members, but not an issue of public morality on which it seeks to affect public policy. (Theological Studies, March 1974).

Fast forward to the 1984 presidential race. Here is an excellent article that summarizes the situation.

In March 1984, John O’Connor became archbishop of New York. That summer, Walter Mondale nominated New Yorker Geraldine Ferraro for vice president. Ferraro attempted to justify her pro-abortion position as being compatible with her Catholic faith, and Archbishop O’Connor corrected her. It became a high-profile controversy. The Catholic Church, in the person of the archbishop of New York, was at odds with a Catholic candidate for national office on a matter of fundamental importance. The Church’s pro-life public witness was clear — painfully clear for some.

It is well known that Mario Cuomo went to Notre Dame to argue that faithful Catholics could in good conscience, as legislators and executives, defend abortion rights, pass laws facilitating abortion, and even fund it with tax dollars. Yet his “Religious Belief and Public Morality” speech was as much about Notre Dame as it was about Cuomo. Notre Dame’s leadership put its prestige on the pro-choice side of American politics.

Cuomo did not just happen to use a lecture at Notre Dame to address abortion politics. He was brought to Notre Dame in a flagrantly provocative manner to undermine the Church’s pro-life witness in politics. Cuomo was then among the most prominent Catholic politicians in the nation. His political star was rising rapidly after he gave a celebrated keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that summer in San Francisco. His address at Notre Dame was scheduled for Sept. 13, 1984, hosted by Father Hesburgh and Father Richard McBrien, chairman of the theology department.

So the stage was set. After the archbishop of New York had clarified that a faithful Catholic could not promote abortion rights, the nation’s premier Catholic university, led by two of the most famous Catholic priests in America, invited the leading Catholic politician in the country to explain why the archbishop of New York was wrong — all this two months before a presidential election in which a vice-presidential candidate was a pro-abortion Catholic. It almost did not matter what Cuomo said; the message Notre Dame sent was clear: The archbishop of New York and his brother bishops did not speak authoritatively for the Church in the United States; Notre Dame had an authoritative voice, too, and she would be heard on the pro-choice side.

In the speech, Cuomo in essence said that what the Catholic Church teaches on abortion was a matter of personal morality, while his public position—in support of legalized abortion–would not be impacted or affected by that private morality. He said:

“The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus….what is ideally desirable isn’t always feasible, that there can be different political approaches to abortion besides unyielding adherence to an absolute prohibition.”
For his pro-choice political position, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor considered excommunicating him.

Here is a bit more background on the speech, including the role of Fr. Hehir, that BCI has just received from an unimpeachable source.

In November 1983, early into Cuomo’s first term, he delivered a speech about stewardship of political power in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It got press visibility at the time because it was apparently the first time since John F. Kennedy’s famous Houston speech that a Catholic politician had addressed the issue of religion in public life.

As a result of that speech, Cuomo was contacted by Fr. Richard McBrien, from Notre Dame, who invited him to Notre Dame to expand on it. In the meantime, Cardinal O’Connor, newly named as New York archbishop, went after Cuomo and other pro-choice Catholic politicians about their stances on abortion. The issue got a lot of attention in the 1984 presidential campaign. The address at Notre Dame grew in prominence and importance since the national media gave it a great deal of attention.

The speechwriter for Gov. Cuomo was Peter Quinn, and he is on record as having helped craft the Notre Dame speech. Fr. McBrien, who, coincidentally, preached at Fr. Bryan Hehir’s first Mass after his ordination as a priest, came to New York where he discussed the issues involved and Catholic approaches to the issues with the speechwriter.  The original draft was written in collaboration with a former Jesuit student, Bill Hanlon, to reflect what they felt Cuomo believed, as well as their own beliefs as Catholics. Then Gov. Cuomo saw the draft, and after that, Fr. McBrien and Fr. George Hunt, S.J. (then editor of America magazine),.  It then went to Fr. Bryan Hehir, Peter Steinfels at Commonweal Magazine  and others for review and feedback.

We repeat, this information comes from an unimpeachable source, with first-hand knowledge of, and involvement in the 1984 speech and speech-writing effort.

A reasonable person might ask several questions.  Why was Fr. Hehir on the review list for a speech given by a pro-choice Democratic politician, defending their public pro-choice position?  What did Fr. Hehir think of the message then, and what did he advise Mario Cuomo and the speechwriter for that 1984 Notre Dame speech?  What does Fr. Hehir think of the message today?  Why was Fr. Hehir part of an effort to help undermine the U.S. bishops authoritative voice on abortion? How does Fr. Hehir feel that Catholics for a Free Choice cited his statement that contraception was an issue of private morality, not public morality to support their position that Catholic hospitals should not be exempt from having to offer contraceptive coverage? Why has every attempt to run 40 Days for Life in the Boston Archdiocese been rejected by the group responsible for this area, which happens to fall under the authority of Fr. Hehir?  Why does the Pro-Life Office report into Fr. Hehir? Why is the public policy voice of the Massachusetts Bishops, the Mass Catholic Conference, under the authority of Fr. Hehir, when his stated views have been that Church teachings were a matter of private morality, not public morality? To what extent are his views muting the voice of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts today?

If you would like to do something about this situation, click Email icon below and forward this blog post to the U.S. Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano at nuntiususa@nuntiususa.org, or drop a dime and call him at 202-333-7121.

This is what BCI thinks.  What do you think?

24 Responses to What Did Boston Diocesan Official Advise Mario Cuomo for 1984 Notre Dame Speech?

  1. jbq2 says:

    Mario Cuomo now has a son who is governor of New York. His bishop is Howard Hubbard of Albany. Bishop Hubbard refuses to criticize the abortion beliefs of Governor Cuomo. Within the last year, Governor Cuomo was welcomed to speak at his former school in Brooklyn. The bishop of Brooklyn defended his right to speak. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is wary of attacking him for some reason. A definite pattern is developing in Boston through Hehir and O’Connor of interaction with the socialist Obama Administration. In the 1940s, German and Austrian bishops were very supportive of a rising politician from Bavaria who promised a bulwark against Communism. In 1917, Leon Trotsky represented Jewish opposition to the Czar. “Social justice” is laudable as a Catholic doctrine. However, Malachi Martin in his writings has stated that this is Catholic movement toward support for world socialism.

    • sjm says:

      And the moon and the stars align. In the 1960’s the new Catholic order. A Catholic president. The decoy and pathway for Catholics to be eased into the co-mingling of church and government. Who then, where then, are the Catholics?

    • Michael says:

      Cardinal Timothy Dolan is wary of attacking him for some reason. … because Dolan is a politician before he is a Catholic.

  2. Chris says:

    Was an election talk by Fr. Hehir someone’s idea of an adult “faith formation” program? More important: Did anyone record the talk?

  3. David S. says:

    If you call the Nuncio’s Office, as I did this morning, you will be asked to put your concerns in writing and then them in via snail mail or by email. Over the years I have sent numerous emails to the Nuncio and have NEVER gotten a response.

    In addition to contacting the Nuncio, I would encourage your readers to do is to make two phone calls to the Diocese of Wilmington. This is Joe Biden’s Archdiocese where he resides and receives Holy Communion each Sunday.

    1. Call the Office of Bishop Maloody. His office can be reached through the main number: (302) 573-3100.

    2. Call the Office of the Moderator of the Curia Fr. Thomas Cini. The direct number to his office is: (302) 573-3118.

    Tell them that last night Joe Bidden, who is a member of their Archdiocese and who receives Holy Communion each week in their Archdiocese, said during the Vice Presidential debate in front of 70 million viewers that one can be a practicing Catholic and in favor of abortion. Insist that the Bishop issue a public statement correcting Mr. Biden and that the Bishop begin to enforce Canon 915 so as to prevent further scandal.

    Let’s get Bishop Maloody’s phone ringing off the hook today.

    • David S. says:

      And if I can trouble your readers to make one additional phone call today, I ask that they contact the USCCB at: (202) 541-3000.

      Ask the switchboard operator to be put through to Cardinal Dolan’s office. Cardinal Dolan is the Head of the USCCB.

    • David, Thank you for this additional information. The Papal Nuncio will not respond personally to you, but it is still important to give your feedback. The more people who write, the more likely there will be some action taken. We do have evidence the Papal Nuncio listens and takes action on some issues It may just not be quick or obvious.

    • Anni says:

      USCCB issued a press release in response to Biden’s comments about the HHS Mandate. Too bad nothing was said about his position on abortion and its inconsistency with Catholic Teaching. The release also doesn’t call him out by name. I guess half a loaf is better than no loaf at all…


      “Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

      “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

      This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.”

  4. B.O.W says:


    It seems that 40 Days for Life *is* present in the Archdiocese. In Haverhill and Lynn. But I am surprised there none in the Boston area. Do you have any more info about official opposition to this program?

  5. Stephen says:

    To your Why why why?
    If it walks like a heretic, looks like a heretic
    and quacks like a heretic – it is a heretic.
    Hehir is a heretical Modernist and in control.
    All the other issues in our diocese flows
    down from there. Every single one, without

  6. Dee Dee says:

    Whatever happened to standing up to authority and speaking the truth? Please, Bishops – Cardinal O’Malley et al – we are begging you to be clear that one cannot be privately against abortion, but publiclly permissive of it. This needs to be preached from every Catholic pulpit in every Catholic church until no one can claim they are ignorant of the truth! The scandal this has caused because Catholic politicians have not been called out by their bishops is immeasureable. Those of us in the pews are exhausted from telling our fellow Catholics that abortion is not a political issue, but a moral one. And, that one cannot be a faithful Catholic and vote for a politician who is publicly for abortion because it is intriniscally evil. No rationalizations apply here. Faithful Catholics need to be for social justice in principle, but can hold different opinions on how this is to be achieved. There is no such wiggle room on opposing abortion and those who would permit it. But we need to hear the loud, clear, courageous voices of all our bishops affirming this in no uncertain terms. With few exceptions, bishops let national Catholic politicians like Joe Bidden, Kathleen Sebilius, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, etc. continually lie in the name of our faith. Little surprise then that Pew Research found that the part of the country with the highest concentration of Catholics – namely, New England – was also the most liberal and had the lowest church attendance. In the corporate world, results like that would jeopardize an executive’s career. More importantly, this is a case of jeopardizing one’s soul.

  7. Stephen says:

    Welcome to those linked from Pewsitter.
    Fr. Hehir appears to be the ‘Rasputin’ of the Catholic left.
    Note well.

  8. Marie says:

    Father Hehir urged and the Holy See followed…………….

    Interesting reading material suggested in this blog. A most telling line from “The Church and the Population Year: Notes on a strategy” follows:

    “To base our moral critique of population policy on a means argument is defective on two counts: substantively, it looks at only one relatively minor dimension of population policy; strategically, it tends to isolate us, leaving us without allies on an issue where Catholics alone cannot carry the case, nationally or internationally.”

    “………strategically, it tends to isolate us, leaving us without “allies””.

    Allies in and for what purpose?

    What was the agenda at that time and, now, 38 years later has the agenda been accomplished? Where are the Catholics who did not buy into the 60’s/70’s “master plan”. Have they common or separate leadership? My thinking…….common.

  9. Stephen says:

    “………strategically, it tends to isolate us, leaving us without “allies””.

    – Ya, almost like hanging on a cross alone or something.

    You will know them by their fruit.
    A vineyard full, 50 million U.S. abortions since 1973

  10. Former Mario Cuomo Aide says:

    I found this post and blog from Pewsitter. Forgive me that I am unfamiliar with the Boston Catholic Insider blog and comment protocol here – but I must say that I am very impressed with the accurate reporting of this story about a historic speech that has not been reported publicly before to the best of my knowledge.

    The story as recounted in this blog post is accurate. Peter Quinn was a very talented speechwriter. He had been speechwriter for prior NY governor, Hugh Carey as well. The Governor described Quinn as “brilliant.” He engaged his equally brilliant Catholic friend, Bill Hanlon, who had studied as a Jesuit for about 10-12 years. Though Cuomo has told the story as though the governor wrote the speech and collaborated with Quinn and Hanlon over a five week period on the theology and logic of the speech, in fact it was Quinn who first drafted the speech, with Hanlon as close collaborator, then they reviewed with the Governor and modified. I believe they drew on the writings of Jesuit priest and theologian, John Courtney Murray, for some of the logic.

    Fr. McBrien had invited the Governor to give the talk, and the Governor actually contacted McBrien to suggest they cancel the talk because of press attention and potential embarrassment for Notre Dame over the controversial topic.McBrien spoke to then-President Ted Hesburgh, who said that the speech should proceed and Governor should say whatever he wanted to say. After the initial draft was done and reviewed by Fathers McBrien and Hunt (d. 2011), they engaged like-minded people like Fr. McBrien’s friend, Fr. Hehir and Peter Steinfels.

    Where I am unsure is how seriously Cardinal John O’Connor actually considered excommunicating the Governor. The Governor acknowledged publicly in December 1999 (when Cardinal O’Connor was very ill) that he knew shortly after he arrived in New York, that Cardinal O’Connor had an “abhorrence” for abortion and any politicians who appeared to be condoning it, such as Geraldine Ferraro. On a radio show, the Cardinal was asked if Gov. Cuomo should be excommunicated, and Gov. Cuomo, his wife, and one of the Governor’s sons happened to be listening at the time. The Governor said the word “excommunicate” went through him like a dagger, and it became worse for the Governor when the Cardinal apparently answered with some equivocation. At no time, to my knowledge, did Cardinal O’Connor ever say that Gov. Cuomo should be excommunicated, but the Cardinal did tell Catholic politicians in 1990 that they risked being excommunicated from the Catholic Church if they were persistent in supporting abortion.

    Here is an article that describes the latter:


    O’Connor Warns Politicians Risk Excommunication Over Abortion

    Published: June 15, 1990

    John Cardinal O’Connor warned Roman Catholic politicians yesterday that they risked being excommunicated from the Catholic Church if they were persistent in supporting a woman’s right to abortion.

    ”For the common good,” the Cardinal said, ”such Catholics must be warned that they are at risk of excommunication.”

    Those at risk, he said, are Catholics who ”are perceived not only as treating church teaching on abortion with contempt, but helping to multiply abortions by advocating legislation supporting abortion or by making public funds available for abortion.”

    ”If such action persists,” he said, ”bishops may consider excommunication the only option.”

    I don’t know if you allow comments this long and I apologize for the length. I commend you for reporting on these details of the story 28 years after the speech, and thought you might find the additional perspective to be of value.

    • Objective Observer says:

      This is a remarkably valuable intervention. Thank you for giving readers here the benefit of your firsthand knowledge.

      Richard McBrien has fallen from grace at Notre Dame for a variety of reasons, but in the 1980s he was riding high. There are many verifiable stories that simply boggle the mind, both as to his (un)professional conduct, and as to his personal life.

      One of the sharpest criticisms of him has come from his own colleagues, who find that he lacks sufficient grounding in Philosophy. This, among other concerns, led to his toppling as chairman of Theology a long time ago. Recently, when I was in a long conversation with two current members of that department, they mentioned that he no longer has faculties to celebrate the sacraments publicly on campus — in addition, his faculties were lifted by the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend some time ago.

      McBrien’s royalties from sales of his religious education series for children, and his oft-criticized book, Catholicism, probably have him firmly notched in the millionaire club.

      He is a diocesan priest of Hartford CT — an archdiocese that dropped the reins in re McBrien long ago.

  11. David S. says:

    I went to a talk by Mario Cuomo at Salem State College about 20 years ago. At that time Mr. Cuomo was pro-choice on abortion and against the death penalty.

    During his talk Mr. Cuomo explained that although he was “personally opposed” to abortion he did not want to impose his views on people who didn’t share his moral and religious beliefs. I remember him saying that since the majority of Americans were pro-choice as an elected official he needed to represent the views of the majority.

    But what was odd was at the time a majority of Americans supported the death penalty. And yet when it came to the death penalty, Mr. Cuomo had no problem whatsoever imposing his moral beliefs on the majority of people who were in support of the death penalty.

  12. […] What Did Boston Diocesan Official Advise Mario Cuomo for 1984 Notre Dame Speech? – Boston Catholic Insider […]

  13. Seppe says:

    Readers may be interested to learn more about Fr. Brian Hehir’s background mentioned in the following report, which explains the origins of the crisis we are currently beginning to realize:

    Click to access ccatholic-rprt.pdf

  14. ANNE says:

    There are 4 kinds of Catholics – Faithful Catholics, Heretical Catholics, Schismatic Catholics, and Ignorant Catholics.

    Since we have been provided the ” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” by the Magisterium, there are no good excuses except to be that of Faithful Catholics.

    CCC: ” 2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.
    A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae, by the very commission of the offense,”and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.
    The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society. ”

    CCC: ” 2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
    You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
    God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes. “

  15. ANNE says:

    For those who will be writing to any Diocese Bishop or Diocese Cardinal asking for the excommunication of a publically pro-abortion politician (public includes his/her voting record), it is always most effective to include quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” – such as 2272, 2271 as stated above and –
    CCC: ” 1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
    – by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
    – by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
    – by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
    – by protecting evil-doers. ”

    Also the paragraphs on SCANDAL – which is also a grave (mortal sin) when it causes others to sin.

    Even Bishops and Cardinals (as all of us) are required to adhere to the CCC.
    Go to: http://whatcatholicsreallybelieve.com
    or search ” What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE ” for more info and a search engine for specifics within the CCC.

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