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In 2019, the New Mexico Senate rejected a bill that would have removed an old, invalid abortion law from the books.
One year later, voters had their say. Six Democratic senators who had voted against the bill were removed from office, including powerful veterans such as former President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen and Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith.
Clearly, the bill was supported by not only Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the House, but also by a majority of voters in New Mexico. But, it was passed against the wishes of the Catholic Church, which has now tried to strike back.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, who voted for the bill and retained his Senate seat, announced last week that “some new clergy” within the Las Cruces Catholic Diocese have decided that his vote disqualifies him from being able to take communion.
Cervantes reported via Twitter that he had been denied communion during a celebratory mass at the Carmelite Monastery.
It’s a tactic Catholic leaders have used many times before, with little success. President Joe Biden recently was denied communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. Presidential candidate John Kerry was denied communion at a Catholic church in Boston during the heat of a presidential race.
New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, former California Gov. Gray Davis, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and even former GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani have all been denied communion based on their views on abortion. That may have caused personal pain for the individuals involved, but not one person changed his or her position as a result.
Christopher Velasquez, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces, defended the decision by explaining to the Sun-News that Cervantes had been told multiple times by the church how he should vote on that bill, including a personal warning from Bishop Peter Baldacchino. Yet he went against their orders.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, there was great concern among millions of Amercans that if he won, our nation’s leader would be subservient to the pope. Decisions would not be made in Washington, D.C., but rather at the Vatican. Kennedy’s independence and his willingness to put the interests of the nation above the teachings of his church opened the door for the many Catholics who have followed him into public office, including our current president.
Now, Catholic church leaders seem intent on chipping away at that political independence. If they’re successful, it will surely result in further backlash at the polls, such as the one in 2020 that completely reshaped the state Senate.
I realize that I’m making a political argument, and not a moral one. But that’s because of the total insignificance of the bill that’s causing all the ruckus. Passage of Senate Bill 10 had no impact on the lives of New Mexico residents. It removed a law that has been unconstitutional - and thus unenforceable - since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.
Should that ruling ever be reversed, the current Legislature at that time should decide how to proceed - not one that was elected in the 1950s.
Cervantes said he has actively participated in his parish church for 50 years, and has served as its attorney for 20 years.
But he was elected to represent all the residents of District 31. And, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has obligations to the entire state. His decision to put the state and his constituents first was the correct one.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.