Gov. Andrew Cuomo presents his budget message at St. Joseph's...

Gov. Andrew Cuomo presents his budget message at St. Joseph's College's McGann Conference Center. (Feb. 23, 2011) Credit: Charles Eckert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared his Catholic religious practices a "private" matter Wednesday and parried questions about whether he will continue to take Holy Communion after a Vatican consultant called it "sacrilegious" for him to be living with his girlfriend.

"It's not something that I discuss in the political arena," Cuomo said at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue.

Cuomo's comments came after a budget speech in which he called on unions and others to "come together" to help plug New York's $10-billion deficit.

His remarks on religion followed a rebuke by Edward Peters, a faculty member at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit whom Pope Benedict XVI named a consultant to the Vatican court last year. Peters last month called Cuomo's living with Food Network host Sandra Lee "public concubinage."

Peters then told a conservative website that allowing Cuomo to take Communion is "objectively sacrilegious." In an e-mail Wednesday, Peters said the "sacrilege in question here is that risked when publicly unworthy persons take, or are given, Holy Communion. Ultimately, of course, the solution to this problem is for the governor and Ms. Lee to cease their public cohabitation outside of marriage."

Asked after his speech at St. Joseph's if he will continue taking Communion, Cuomo said: "My religion is a private matter. . . . I believe it's up to an individual. . . . For me, I choose to keep my religion and my religious practices private and not discuss it in the political arena."

The Diocese of Rockville Centre declined to comment about the flap over Cuomo's living arrangements. "As a matter of pastoral practice, we would not comment publicly on anything which should be addressed privately, regardless if the person is a public figure or a private citizen," spokesman Sean Dolan said in a statement that was nearly identical to one issued by the Archdiocese of New York.

Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, who gave Cuomo Communion on Jan. 2, Wednesday issued the same statement, but also said:

"There are norms of the church governing the sacraments which Catholics are expected to observe. However, it is unfair and imprudent to make a pastoral judgment about a particular situation without knowing all the facts."

On the state budget issue, Cuomo told an audience of about 300 people at St. Joseph's that he didn't expect the sort of union protests in Albany that are occurring in Wisconsin, where thousands of people are protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to eliminate collective bargaining.

Cuomo said his administration is "going out of our way to work together" with public employee unions and pronounced himself a supporter of organized labor and collective bargaining.

"We're in a tough place, this is a tough time. Let's all come together and we can work this out together and everyone will do their own piece."

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