Interview With Mario M. Cuomo re: Pope Benedict … the Catholic Church … his own life … Ed Koch … Mariano Rivera

William O’Shaughnessy

Interview With

Mario M. Cuomo

 

Re: Pope Benedict … the Catholic Church …

his own life … Ed Koch … Mariano Rivera

 

February 11, 2013

WVOX and WVIP Worldwide

 

“It would be wonderful if we could all get one more shot at it…to be given the opportunity to go back and do it over.”

 

William O’Shaughnessy

No Pope has given up the miter or the keys to the kingdom in 600 years … but it happened this week.  Governor Mario Cuomo, you’re a great student of things theological and you’re a son of the Church … what do you think about the Pope walking away from it and hanging it up?

 

Mario Cuomo

What the Pope did, it appears to me, was a practical, selfless, intelligent decision.  He is a man who has worked very hard for a long time.  He’s now concluded that he doesn’t have enough strength to do the job of being the most important person in the Catholic Church … at least when it comes to the group, the small group – the Curia – that make the decisions about how we should deal with our religion and how we should keep it strong and how we can improve it.  It takes a lot of strength.

He doesn’t have that strength anymore.  He has the desire, I’m sure.  We witnessed that.  But he did, it seems to me, the right thing.  If you can’t do the job, you have to step aside.  Anything else would have been selfish and damaging.

 

WO

Governor, your friend of so many years Jimmy Breslin once wrote a book called The Church That Forgot Christ.  And he went to great lengths to say there’s a hierarchy and a church that now may not resemble what Jesus intended … how do you feel about that stuff?

 

MC:

Well … when you say how do you feel about that stuff, that stuff is a huge, huge amount of law and religious law that guides us – those of us that are Catholic – in the way that we should live and it’s a very difficult thing to try to sum it up in any tidy, neat and convenient way.  This probably is not well understood by people like me and other Catholics.  We have to keep in mind that the Church – although it talks about infallibility – it has adopted a rule of ineffability, that rule of infallibility – which means we can’t make a mistake if we’re talking about our religion … we’re not capable of making a mistake.  That has been put to one side.  That simply is not the working measure of the people who are making the rules.  Infallibility was adopted at a time when the Church was already not well supported because it had proven itself vulnerable in a number of ways.  To try to deal with that weakness, they suggested that this new rule – of course it’s no longer a new rule – that when the Pope  chooses, because he believes it’s a matter of very, very high importance, the Pope chooses to say something, to make a doctrine, to make a ruling.  And he does it with infallibility.  It means he can’t possibly be wrong. 

 

Well, that struck a lot of people as not intelligent and not reasonable and, in fact, it has never been exercised specifically except, I think, with respect to the Virgin Mary and the question of whether or not she was assumed up to Heaven when she passed away.  And that’s the only issue on which infallibility has been promoted by the Pope and the Church that makes the rules.  Now … that’s a very important thing because it means the Church is fallible.  It means the Church can make a mistake.

 

WO:

Are you saying the Church made a mistake with the Blessed Mother?

 

MC:

No … I’m saying that it can make mistakes and it has made mistakes.  And that’s important because it’s corrected a lot of mistakes.  And if it can correct a lot of mistakes, that suggests that maybe more corrections are possible.  At one time, you could not take any money for lending money to somebody … the interest bankers live with and a lot of other people that lend money.  It was a sin to charge somebody for the use of money. 

 

WO:

What was that sin called?

 

MC:

Usury … and … it was a major sin, let’s put it that way.  It was regarded as a very significant sin.  And of course it’s no longer the law of the Church.  And there are other things the Church has changed its mind on.  And made different rules for.  There’s a great book by an Irish Catholic judge who is a layman and has written a book on the Church’s policy, three, four or five of them.  And how over the years the Church has accepted and even promoted the reality that it is capable of making mistakes.  Usury is one of those issues.   They made a big mistake – the  Church – when they said it was a sin to charge interest.   And certainly a whole lot of people are happy they didn’t do that because there are a lot of people in this world who get a lot of money for lending money and they were very pleased with the idea of being able to do that and they didn’t want to hear the  Church saying it’s a sin to charge interest. 

 

WO:

Governor, you’ve written lovingly and also critically – if gently – about the Church.  You’re not going to like it when I remind you of this, but when you were elected governor of New York three times by tremendous margins, a friend of yours said I think Mario really wants to be a cardinal.   Forgive me, Governor … that really happened.

 

MC:

No … no that didn’t happen, O’Shaughnessy.  I could guess who it is that said that. But I’m not going to give you the name for fear that I’m shooting at the wrong target.  No …

 

WO:

Did you ever think about being a priest?

 

MC:

No … let’s stay with the governorship.  I felt capable of being a competent governor before I decided to run.  I had a lot of experience as a lay Catholic and that was useful in terms of being an active Catholic, I had a lot of experience doing that.  And in terms of governing, I had four years as Secretary of State in which I learned a whole lot about our government and traveled all over the state. And then I had four more years working with Hugh Carey as the Lieutenant Governor who would take his place if he would have to step away.  I was well armed for the job.  I was a lawyer before that and so I had the confidence I would be competent.  OK?  I never dreamt I would be more than that and when people started talking about me as a president, I could not say about myself what I could say about myself when I chose to attempt to be a governor.  And that is I know I’m competent to do this.  I did not have that same feeling about the presidency.

 

WO:

But Mario Cuomo, excuse me, you’ve always been drawn relentlessly and consistently to the great cosmic and spiritual issues of the day.  Somebody once said famously this guy is too good to be worried about how many Bob’s Big Boys you should put on the Thruway.  You’ve worked the territory that should be worked by cardinals and bishops.  You know you have.  You spoke famously on abortion. And you’ve tried to make some sense of it all.  You sure you didn’t go into the wrong business?

 

MC:

No … not at all.  If you’re suggesting I should have become a priest, I’ve already confessed I wasn’t good enough to be a president.  I’m just as sure – or surer – that I’m not good enough to be a priest.  Certainly not after I met Matilda.

 

WO:

I’m not asking you to dump Matilda.

 

MC:

The Church is a wonderful thing, Bill.  The Church – when it stays close to Christ and what Christ said and what Christ believed  and what Christ sought to teach all the rest of us – when the Church does that it’s wonderful.  Really wonderful.  It can make the world better.  And let’s stay with the Church and what it represents in terms of religious belief.  If you look very, very closely, the Roman Catholic Church is not very far separated from Judaism.  The essence of Judaism is two simple principles that can be  captured with two simple words:  Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah.  Tzedakah is, roughly in Hebrew, charity …  goodness in dealing with other people.  Fairness.  All of that.  That’s Tzedakah. Tikkun Olam  is the Hebrew principle that says God made this world but didn’t complete it.  Your mission is to begin the work He began.  And to correct some of the misdirections we have become guilty of.  Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.  But those two principles are exactly what Christ taught.  And as a matter of fact, there’s a kind of dramatic evidence of this in the story about Christ on that night coming out of the synagogue and being confronted by people who are not friendly to Him and demanded to know from Him why it was other rabbis were walking out and expressing astonishment at your intelligence and wisdom, etc.  And what is it you said to these people in the synagogue?   And He said simply …

 

WO:

The Lord?

 

MC:

Yes … this is Christ talking simply to the people in the synagogue, the rabbis particularly.  He said:  Look … this is the Whole Law.  Love one another as you love yourself.  That’s Tikkun Olam and the Tzedakah principle put together.  Love one another as you love yourself for the love of Me for I am Truth.  And what he was saying is I am God and you should rest on that principle and that principle calls upon you to be good to one another.  To love one another.  Well, if those two principles are the essence of Christ, then what distinguishes them from the Jews?  Well, the Hebrews said exactly the same thing!  One of the great rabbis said love one another as you would love yourself, for the love of God, because that’s what God wants you to do.  And everything else is commentary.  I love that!   Loving one another is all you need to do to be right with the religion, whether it’s Judaism or Christianity.  And if we could get that clearer in our minds, we wouldn’t have spent all those years trying to blame every Jew for having killed Christ and for being the massachristis which were condemned in the Second Vatican Council.  The massacristy was a kind of slur on Jewish people to say they are the killers of Christ.  In fact, they are not the killers of Christ.  They didn’t do the killing.  But more than that, even as a matter of religious principle, they weren’t the killers of Christ. 

 

You know, you have all of that going for you.  You had the possibility at one point, we will continue to refine, to study and to discuss the relationship between the Christian principles and the Hebrew principles and get even closer together.  When that happens, then the great issue of modern religion becomes … what do the rest of the world’s religions say about a new religion that is the new Christianity and the old Judaism now making up the new religion.  Will they be frightened by it?  Will they be attracted by it?  There are more people out there that believe in the Koran and those things, than there are
Jews and Christians.  So … it’s an exciting world we’re living in if you judge it just by its religions.  The kind of pope we need is the kind of pope who will say … it’s time to look back on our history and to see we have failed in our mission because we simply have ignored opportunities.  Like what?  Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if women who we are so eager to make equal to men in all ways that are practical, wouldn’t it be something if all the women who wanted to be priests could be priests.  And all the women who want to be capable of conducting the Mass … then all the women would be the equal of all the men.  How much stronger would that make us as a Christian nation?

 

WO:

Governor, would you want to go to confession to a woman?  It’s hard enough telling a guy your sins!

 

MC:

I’ll take your word for it, Bill.

 

WO:

At least for me …

 

MC:

OK … let’s leave it there, O’Shaughnessy.

 

WO:

Governor, you’re a politician.  That’s what you are.  A governor … a politician.

 

MC:

I’m a lawyer.  That’s what I am … a lawyer.

 

WO:

A lawyer … but governors and politicians and lawyers are not supposed to talk about things like this.  About Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah.  Soulful, religious, deep issues …

 

MC:

Why not? 

 

WO:

See … you prove my point.  You’ve always been drawn to this stuff.  So again I ask you …

 

MC:

It’s not stuff.  It’s the rules by which you lead your life. 

 

WO:

One of our callers is nominating you for Pope and Mariano Rivera for Vice Pope.  Will you serve if elected?

 

MC:

No … but I tell you, I would love to see how he throws that one pitch … I mean, it’s just one pitch this guy has … the cutter.  And I hope he hasn’t lost it to this year while he was sitting it out.

 

WO:

The Boston Globe called you the great philosopher-statesman of the American nation.  Did you ever get the feeling you’d like to get in there and save your Church? 

 

MC:

No … no.  I’m too weak to do a lot of the things I’d love to be able to do.  It would be wonderful if we could all get one more shot at it.  At one point be given the opportunity to go back and do it over.  Imagine how much better you could do it.  And that’s the way we should feel about the  Church now.  We should feel the Church is invited to have a new day.  A new week.  A new month.  A new era of the Church.  If you could find the right person to lead it, then wonderful, wonderful things can happen to our religion and to the world that’s affected by that religion. 

 

WO:

Governor … speaking of a final shot, you gave an exceptional interview with New York Magazine  about a sometimes friend, sometimes not so much a friend, Ed Koch.  Would you like one final comment on the man.

 

MC:

Final word on Ed Koch?  I’ll give you one final word … I wrote something … can I read it to you, Bill.

 

WO:

We’d love to hear it, Sir …

 

MC:

Everyone who has ever sat in the magnificence of Temple Emmanuel cannot be unmoved by the dazzling and soaring beauty that surrounds them.  Some of our great city’s greatest citizens have chosen it as the platform for their last goodbye’s as did Ed Koch on Monday, February 4, 2013.  I knew Ed Koch for most of the quarter of a century that we both became involved in politics.  During those years we had our ups and downs, but no politician I know ever equaled Koch’s mastery of the media.  All of it – television, radio, newspapers, public appearances.  It made him, perhaps, the best known political leader in New York City’s history.  That was made clearer by the unprecedented media coverage his passing received.  He deserved to be well known.  Ed devoted his life to two great loves.  The world of politics and his family.  He spent his entire adult life in public service as a soldier, mayor, congressman, writer of books and columns and as one of the best known mayors in our city’s history.  In the end he was more than a uniquely honored mayor.  He was an institution that became an ineradicable part of our city’s history like the Statue of Liberty and the great bridges.  New Yorkers will never stop answering his question which was How Am I Doing?  And they’ll answer it with their reply.  You did good, Ed.  You did good!

 

WO:

Governor, I couldn’t talk you into running for pope … but you’ve given us some great gifts as you always do.  I’m glad you’re a friend of this radio station, Sir.  Thank you.

 

MC:

Thank you for having me once again, Brother Bill.

 

 

# # #

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Governor Cuomo.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media

914-235-3279 … cindy@wvox.com

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