Saint Ignatius High School

Church and State

Today's Lesson from Loyola Hall uses the current hearings for Amy Comey Barrett's nomination to a federal judge's post as a starting point for asking where Catholicism's voice falls in America.

“I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative!”
One could never imagine the Edwardian Era in the United Kingdom as a time of great openness to the Catholic – or as they would say, the R.C. – point of view, yet the above quote was instrumental in the election of Liberal Party member Hilaire Belloc to the House of Commons for South Salford in Greater Manchester.
Belloc was responding to a heckler in a crowd who asked him if he was a “papist.”  Taking out his rosary and proclaiming how important his Catholic faith was to him actually did him no political harm as the voters, few of whom were Catholic, respected his forthright statement and his clarity of conscience.
This week, in a country that would see itself as much more enlightened and progressive than early Twentieth Century England, a woman nominated to be a federal judge was told that her serious adherence to the Catholic religion was making the members of the Senate Judicial Committee feel “very uncomfortable.”
The problem that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has with Amy Coney Barrett isn’t that she is a Catholic per se; the problem is that Catholic “dogma lives loudly within” her.  Read between the lines: my problem with you is that you take your Catholicism seriously, and this may make you sympathetic to deciding cases in favor of a “Catholic” way of thinking.  To put this more bluntly: I don’t want any judge on the court who personally disagrees with Roe v. Wade – what Feinstein has called a “super-precedent.”  One might ask the senator from California, “Who is it whose dogma lives loudly within her?”
For those unfamiliar with Amy Coney Barrett, she is the Diane and M.O. Miller Research Chair of Law at the Notre Dame Law School where she has twice been selected as “Distinguished Professor of the Year.”  She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She is married to U.S. Attorney for Northern Indiana Jesse M. Barrett, and they have been blessed with seven children.
I don’t know if Senator Feinstein is a fan of baseball, but I am guessing that these three strikes are enough for her to want to send Professor Barrett back to the dugout.
The poorly named Alliance for Justice believes that Professor Barrett’s “extreme views make her unfit for the federal bench.”  Among her extreme views is “that life begins at conception.”  It seems that according to the Alliance for Justice no pro-life judge should ever be appointed.  Even more chilling than that conclusion is the apparent belief of the Alliance that a pro-life stance must be based on religious faith and not on any sort of rational basis. 
One might wonder how the Alliance would have looked at judges who, based on their religious beliefs, thought that Dred Scott was a poor legal decision. Would the Alliance for Justice tolerate the kind of religious narrow-mindedness that helped to abolish slavery?
The position of Catholics in America has always been tenuous at best.  We have never been trusted to be “real” Americans, perceived as moles for some old man in Rome.  This suspicion kept Al Smith from being a competitive candidate against Herbert Hoover in 1928, and John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 needed the boost of his reassurance speech to Baptist ministers in Houston to push him over the finish line – defeating Richard Nixon by less than two-tenths of a percent of the popular vote.
This suspicion has also led many of our co-religionists to see themselves as Americans who just happen to be Catholic rather than Catholics who just happen to be American, to the detriment of the unity of the Catholic voice in America as well as to America itself.  All too often, Americans who just happen to be Catholic, as a way of conforming to their surroundings, buy into the American vision that religion is a merely private affair. 
When religion hides in the closet then ideology always wins, and Americans who happen to be Catholic somehow vote for those who denounce Catholicism in the name of one of America’s only absolutes, “reproductive rights” – a phrase that abuses the English language like no other.
Let us hope and pray that the anti-Catholic bigotry – a bigotry that courses through the body politic in America – on display during the hearings concerning her nomination does not keep Professor Barrett from being appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District.  But once appointed, we can be certain that she will serve us well – as a Catholic who just happens to be an American.