ALBANY, N.Y. – A consultant for the Vatican's high court says he believes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shouldn't receive the Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion because he is not married to his live-in girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee.
Edward Peters, who's also a conservative Catholic blogger and seminary professor in Detroit, called the living arrangement "public concubinage" and said that Cuomo taking Communion would be sacrilegious.
But Catholic bishops don't agree. Bishops and priests have allowed the Catholic Democrat to receive Communion for years, including at Christmas last year and at a Mass last month marking his inauguration. The practice appears to conform to church law.
"My religion is a private matter, and that is not something I discuss in the political arena," Cuomo said Wednesday.
The bishop in Albany agreed, saying to pass judgment on others, even those in public life, is inappropriate.
"There are norms of the church governing the sacraments which Catholics are expected to observe," said Albany Diocese Bishop Howard J. Hubbard. "However, it is unfair and imprudent to make a pastoral judgment about a particular situation without knowing all the facts. As a matter of pastoral practice, we should not comment publicly on anything which should be addressed privately, regardless if the person is a public figure or a private citizen."
A Vatican directive states priests and bishops decide who receives Communion. The New York bishops say Peters, who teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary of Detroit, speaks for himself.
Cuomo is divorced and supports abortion rights. He has said he lives much of the time with Lee in her house. She refers to Cuomo's daughters from his marriage with Kerry Kennedy as her children.
Bishops also decide independently how to approach the issue of abortion in their own dioceses, and a small but growing minority has said publicly they would deny Communion to Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights. Other bishops, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a defender of church orthodoxy, believe Catholics should privately engage politicians who diverge from church teaching.
Cuomo is not the first politician — he's not even the first Cuomo — to run afoul of some church positions. Then-Gov. Mario Cuomo angered the church in 1984 when he delivered a speech at the University of Notre Dame in which he voiced support for abortion rights.
And in 2009, the bishop in Rhode Island said then-U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy should be denied Communion because he supported abortion rights.
Peters is a lawyer who practices within church law. He is a consultant for the Vatican's high court, an expert witness for the Vatican in sex abuse cases and a well-known canon lawyer. His blog, where he made the comments about Cuomo last month, is popular among conservative Catholics in the United States who have been pressing American bishops to take a tougher stand with Catholic politicians who defy church teaching on abortion and other key moral issues.
He didn't respond to a request for comment.
The conservative Catholic League wouldn't comment on the issue, first raised in January by the New York Daily News after Cuomo received Communion at a Mass before his inauguration.
"We're not one to pass judgment," the League stated then, a statement reiterated Wednesday.
Peters' opinion may conflict with church law.
The Vatican states Catholics may receive Communion if they confess their sins or intend to confess their sins and that "church custom shows that is necessary for each person to examine himself at depth."
There are 7.3 million Catholics among New York's 19 million residents, but there is no monolithic "Catholic vote," as was perceived decades ago, that would likely hurt Cuomo, said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found Catholic voters support Cuomo, 61 to 13 percent, and he won with a near-record margin in November when his relationship with Lee and his support of abortion rights were already well-established.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani also faced criticism from some conservatives for being divorced and having a girlfriend. He still ran for president and remains a major figure in Republican politics.
But Cuomo may face trouble in more conservative swing states if he embarks on what is expected to be a presidential run.
"If either of them (Bloomberg or Cuomo) at some point decides to run for president, will this play in Ohio and Wisconsin? I tend to think not," Carroll said.
Associated Press writers Rachel Zoll and Michael Hill contributed to this report.