Catholics Need Not Apply

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I have a new goal in life. 

One day I hope to be a concern to United States Senator Dianne Feinstein. And, as a bonus, maybe United States Senator Dick Durbin will be worried, too.

It would signal that I’m living my life well. But alas, the good senators do not know me.

They do know Amy Coney Barrett. She is a Notre Dame University Law School professor and now a federal judicial nominee.

Barrett is conservative, nominated by a Republican president, so there is that problem for Feinstein and Durbin.

But the real trouble begins when the senators unethically (and, I suggest, illegally) play the religion card.

Barrett is a Catholic. So far, no big deal – heck, even Durbin says he is one of those. The threat here is that Barrett really is Catholic; as in, she really believes what her faith proclaims and tries to live accordingly.

I know, it’s rare. But people like that really do exist … much to the consternation of some government officials, including United States senators.

Barrett has been criticized for a paper she wrote, concerning the conflict a Catholic judge would face in a death penalty case, stating, “if one cannot in conscience affirm a death sentence the proper response is to recuse oneself.”

Opponents of Barrett fail to point out that the paper was published 19 years ago when Barrett was only a law student, and she was only the co-author of the article, along with a law professor – John Garvey, who went on to become the dean of the Boston College Law School, and is now president of Catholic University.

The paper also featured this conclusion:  “Judges cannot – nor should they try to – align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard.”

So, Catholics should take their faith seriously but, in the role of a judge, their judgements are based on law, not catechism.

And this is a problem?

Barrett has spoken about conscience and her faith to groups. And she speaks about law (which is what I presume law professors do).

During Barrett’s confirmation hearing for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett stated:  “It is never appropriate for a judge to apply their personal convictions whether it derives from faith or personal conviction.”

That did not stop Feinstein. The senator had a problem with Barrett’s Catholic faith:

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.”

Feinstein’s bigotry could not be any clearer.

We’ll tolerate you Catholics, as long as you don’t really believe what you say you believe. Don’t be honest and live according to your beliefs – none of that loud dogma around here.

Actually, Feinstein paid Barrett a compliment. Is not the definition of integrity to live out what you believe, no matter the opinion of “large numbers of people”?

But religion is not popular these days, especially Christianity. Even though such belief helps form character and teach morals – something that many of our laws on based on.

We’re supposed to want leaders (and judges) with good, strong moral character. However, when it comes to politics, religion becomes something to check off on the resume, not to be taken seriously. That is a criticism of both Republicans and Democrats.

When it comes to Catholics, we’re a varied bunch; progressives, conservatives, and everything in between. Some, include Barrett, have used the term orthodox is describing their belief. Durbin apparently didn’t like that.

Durbin wanted to know about Barrett’s personal faith and asked her:  “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?“ (an apparent violation of the U.S. Constitution that states, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any officer or public trust under the United States” – Article VI).

Barrett responded:

“If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic, I am. Although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”

Barrett comes across as honest and capable. But she takes her Catholic faith seriously. According to some United States senators, that cannot be tolerated. 


Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.