A Vatican adviser has condemned New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as ‘gravely sacrilegious’ for receiving Holy Communion – because he is not married to his live-in girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee.
Edward Peters, a consultant for the Vatican’s high court, said Mr Cuomo should not take the sacrament of Communion while he is engaged in what he called ‘public concubinage’ with Ms Lee.
His scathing attack comes after an interview with television cook Ms Lee was released in which she frankly discusses her harrowing childhood and present-day success – and says she is happy not being married for now.
She and Mr Cuomo have been together for five years and share a home with his teenage daughters from his first marriage.
In the interview with Vogue, Ms Lee, the host of Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee, describes how she reorganised her company to make life easier for her partner.
But Mr Peters, who is also a conservative Catholic blogger, condemned their living arrangements.
He particularly criticised the governor for receiving Communion at Albany’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on January 1, the day after his inauguration.
The adviser described it as a ‘gravely sacrilegious’ act and said Bishop Howard Hubbard committed a ‘failure in pastoral care’ by praising Mr Cuomo at the Mass, which he attended with Ms Lee and his daughters.
Mr Peters told CNSNews the governor should be denied Communion if he tries to take the sacrament again ‘as long as he persists in such conduct’.
He was referring both to Mr Cuomo’s living arrangements and his views on abortion and gay marriage, which he supports.
Mr Cuomo today said: ‘My religion is a private matter, and that is not something I discuss in the political arena.’
The remarks will do little to harm the glamorous television cook, who has successfully built a lifestyle empire from traumatic beginnings.
In the interview with Vogue, the star spoke frankly about the harrowing childhood that inspired the success of her hit Semi-Homemade book and television series.
The 44-year-old told the magazine how she was abandoned as a toddler by her teenage mother, mentally and physically abused by her stepfather, and by the age of 12, responsible for the care of four younger siblings.
She described how her mother, who became pregnant with her at 15 and was married by 16, left her in the care of her doting grandmother for four years as a young child.
But the trauma really began when she was reclaimed by her mother, banned from seeing her beloved grandmother, and subjected to years of mental and physical abuse from her stepfather.
She revealed that she managed to feed the family, who lived in Sumner, Washington, with next to no money using food stamps and the ingenuity that would make her so famous.
‘I figured out that you can make a casserole with a can of soup, thickened with flour and water and topped with a Bisquick crust,’ she said.
It it this kind of imagination behind the Semi-Homemade concept – recipes based on 70 per cent packaged food and 30 per cent fresh – that has proved such a huge success for her, but a stint at the Cordon Bleu cookery school in Canada honed her skills.
‘At the Cordon Bleu… I learned how to break down these complicated recipes – it was like a science project – and create quicker, easier versions that ordinary women could relate to.
‘Instead of making truffles from scratch, I realised I could use pre-made chocolate icing, adding extra confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. When I presented my ideas to the chef, I thought he would kick me out!’
But Ms Lee’s talents would be spotted by Harvey Weinstein and Tina Brown, and she now has 22 cookery books to her name, a bi-monthly magazine and a television show that attracts 2.5m viewers every week.
Of course the question on everybody’s lips at the moment is about her relationship with Mr Cuomo, who was sworn in as New York Governor on January 1 this year.
The couple, who have been together for five years and met at a party in the Hamptons, remain unmarried despite sharing a home together with his three daughters, twins Mariah and Cara, 16, and Michaela, 13.
‘Well, I did [get married] once, and as I was walking up the aisle I remember thinking, It’s not too late to run,’ she admitted.
‘Right now I’m happy being a girlfriend. But someday Andrew and I will get there. When his kids say we need to, we will.’
For someone with such a thriving career of her own, it might sound like a challenge to accommodate a busy partner, let alone his children in one’s life – but Ms Lee made them a priority.
‘In 2010 I made a very conscious effort to get ahead of my work; I cleared the decks and reorganised the company so that I would have more time to devote to Andrew.
‘I’ve always seen my job as making life easier for my audience, and now my job is to make life easier for him.’
Her new role as ‘the first girlfriend of New York State’ also offers the opportunity for a wardrobe, and she counts Bottega Veneta and Carolina Herrera among her favourite labels, as well as Ann Taylor and Talbots.
To any critics of her expensive clothes, she says she wears ‘beautiful clothes as a badge of honour’.
‘My audience knows me – they remember where I came from.’