State Auditor Candidate Grilled Judge Nominee On Religion, Said She Has Seen Catholic Faith ‘Actually Interfere With People’s Judgment’

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A Democratic candidate for Massachusetts state auditor once asked a judicial nominee probing questions about his religious faith and described the Roman Catholic Church as a discriminatory organization.

Eileen Duff, a member of the Governor’s Council, asked the questions in October 2016 of James Gavin Reardon Jr., who at the time was a civil and criminal defense lawyer seeking a judgeship, during a confirmation hearing.

The exchange, which occurred about a month before the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, did not get much media attention at the time. No news outlet appears to have published an extensive record of the questioning until today.

Duff, who was raised a Catholic, is a lesbian and homosexuality-affirming activist.

She is a member of the Governor’s Council, a part-time state body that meets on Wednesdays to hold hearings and vote up or down on nominations by the governor for judgeships, clerk-magistrates, and public administrators, among other things. Each of the eight elected governor’s councilors represents a portion of the state. Duff, a Democrat from Gloucester, represents District 5, which covers northeastern Massachusetts. The council is chaired by the lieutenant governor, who breaks tie votes.

Reardon, who uses Gavin as his first name, was nominated for a superior court judgeship by Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, in August 2016. Reardon appeared before the Governor’s Council on October 5, 2016.

During his opening statement, Reardon talked about being one of eight children and how his mother went to work teaching English at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester after the kids got older. His resume says that he went to St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury and to Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. (both Catholic). But Reardon never mentioned his religion, either in his paperwork or in his opening statement.

Reardon wrote in response to an item on a pre-hearing questionnaire for the Governor’s Council that he was a former member of the St. Thomas More Society, a Catholic legal group:



That disclosure kicked off Duff’s line of questioning about religion. During it, she challenged Reardon for representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester in 2014 in a lawsuit brought by a same-sex couple who wanted to buy a former retreat center owned by the diocese and use it to host same-sex weddings, which go against Roman Catholic teachings.

Duff used the U.S. Supreme Court as an example of Roman Catholicism causing a problem for judges, saying “we’ve seen it … actually interfere with people’s judgment.”

The hearing was recorded by Patrick McCabe, a fathers’ rights activist and past Governor’s Council candidate who attends Governor’s Council meetings, tapes them, and publishes audio recordings on his web site. An audio recording of the exchange shows that Duff questioned Reardon twice. The first session lasted 14 minutes 46 seconds, of which 8 minutes 43 seconds was about religion.

A transcript of the first exchange about religion (from 2:20 to 11:03 of the audio recording) is below:


Eileen Duff:  And, um. Now, you’re, you’re active in — are you still active in St. Thomas More Society?

Gavin Reardon:  No. I haven’t been active in that for probably more than a decade.

Eileen Duff:  And, can you tell us, what, what, what was the purpose of that organization?

Gavin Reardon:  The St. Thomas More Society is a society primarily for Catholic attorneys in Worcester County. It’s an association of Catholic attorneys. They give out scholarships. They give out an ecumenical award every year. They give out a lay person award every year, a distinguished jurist award, and a distinguished attorney award. That’s their principal function. They hold a yearly Mass, and a dinner.

Eileen Duff:  And so, ahm, why did you choose not to stay involved with it?

Gavin Reardon:  Ahm — I just was busy with other things. I felt that I had done my — I felt I’d done enough time with it. It honestly was becoming sort of, uh, more time than I had for it.

Eileen Duff:  No, I understand.

Well you’re clearly a person of deep faith, which I deeply respect myself. Ahm. And some of these cas– — you’ve represented the Catholic Church in interesting things.

Gavin Reardon:  Yes.

Eileen Duff:  And on ballot 58, though, in your questionnaire, it says that you don’t belong to any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, bah-bah-bah.  But the Catholic Church does.

Gavin Reardon:  Well it de– –

Eileen Duff:  So how do you separate this?  I mean.  And even in these cases that you listed, they’re clearly cases of discrimination, against, ah, people of same-sex people –

Gavin Reardon:  I don’t belong to an organization that discriminates.  Whatever my personal religious beliefs are, that’s, in all fairness, not an organization. That’s a matter of personal religious beliefs.  And religious beliefs are different from being part of an organization or advocating for something.

I don’t believe I’ve ever participated in a case that discriminated against anyone.  The argument in the case that you’re referring to was that there was discrimination.  Ahm.  That case dealt with two issues.  The first one was, that the individuals involved – who were wonderful gentlemen.  I met them, took their depositions. And I praised them at the motion for summary judgment. They’re wonderful, professional gentlemen.

One of the questions involved was did they ever meet the threshold of having the financing? The financing for the building they were trying to purchase fell through.  So it was like you can’t get to discrimination if you don’t have –

Eileen Duff:  I get it.

Gavin Reardon:  So, so, so they never had the money.

And the other issue is a sort of First Amendment issue.  And the First Amendment, like most of the constitutional amendments, engender a lot of tension.

So the First Amendment issue, if you were ever to reach it – we didn’t, we mediated the case and resolved it amicably with the gentlemen — the question is whether a religious institution has control over property that had been used for a sacred purpose. And whether the open market somehow limits that First Amendment right.

I don’t know that that’s ever been resolved. That was the issue that we were arguing about. And we never got to trial on it.  But, like all constitutional issues, there’s a lot of friction involved in it.  So, I enjoyed the argument. I enjoyed the challenge. I appreciate the gentlemen involved.  I appreciate the issues involved. And I was glad that through the court system we were able to litigate it and resolve it amicably. That’s what I think this —

Eileen Duff:  It’s a fascinating issue.  Because any religious organization which clearly does discriminate – which the Catholic Church does.  And I was raised Roman Catholic.

Gavin Reardon:  O.K.

Eileen Duff:  Ahm.  I mean – they are very clear that they discriminate.

Gavin Reardon:  They make judgments. I’m not here to defend the Catholic Church.  That’s not –

Eileen Duff:  Well, I’m not asking you to.  I’m just stating facts.  These are facts.  This isn’t an opinion.  This is a fact.

Gavin Reardon:  O.K.

Eileen Duff:  That you’re selling real estate, no longer sanctified.

Gavin Reardon:  Right.  I don’t know that the building –

Eileen Duff:  And I mean, I think, and I’m not saying you would know the answer.  That’s a fascinating legal question.  It’s no longer sanctified, why does your religion then trump the law?

Gavin Reardon:  That would be the central constitutional question.

Eileen Duff:  Yeah, that’s a really interesting question.

Gavin Reardon:  We never reached it, but it’s worth addressing.  So — That’s what the courts are for.  To address these important questions.  And hopefully address them fairly, professionally – you know, appropriately.  And that’s what I’m looking to do.

Eileen Duff:  And, how do you feel about, about same-sex marriage?

Gavin Reardon:  I’m fine with same-sex marriage.  It’s the law of the land. I think it’s a wonderful thing.

Eileen Duff:  Well, there’s a lot of people that say it’s the law of the land — and I talk to them every day — that don’t believe in it.  You know, they believe in a marriage between a man and a woman and nothing else.

Gavin Reardon:  I would like to see everyone be happy and committed and supportive, in wonderful, happy family relationships.

Eileen Duff:  How about a woman’s right to choose?

Gavin Reardon:  Again, it’s the law of the land, and I support it.

Eileen Duff:  Well, yes, except – and you probably know this, because I know you’re well prepared for this.  But Roe v. Wade has been challenged for over 43 years, and it is being eroded at state level throughout the country right now.  Which is of great concern to women and men in this country.

Gavin Reardon:  Again, without signaling what I would rule on a case – which I don’t think would ever come before me, because it’s a constitutional issue — I generally want people to have the maximum amount of freedom they can have, with the least necessary governmental interference.

But there are always important societal issues to raise.  You have a couple or a family, that’s a couple and a family.  And in their own life I hope they’re all happy and it works out.  Some of their issues – like getting a DCF person involved or whatever, sometimes spill out that particular couple or that particular family. You have to go on a case-by-case basis. But —

Eileen Duff:  And you don’t feel that your religious belief would interfere with your judgment on any of this?  Because we’ve seen it on the U.S. Supreme Court actually interfere with people’s judgment.

Gavin Reardon:  But with all due respect, we haven’t determined what my religious belief is.  And I’m not here —

Eileen Duff:  Well, you’ve shared with us that you’re a Roman Catholic.

Gavin Reardon:  I don’t believe I’ve shared that. And I’ve defended —

Eileen Duff:  Are you a Roman Catholic?

Gavin Reardon:  I’ve defended the Catholic Church.  I’m not going to get into what my religious beliefs are.  Respectfully.

But, I certainly believe in the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  I’m proud of our courts.  I’m proud of the decisions they’ve reached.

Eileen Duff:  Sure.

Gavin Reardon:  I know they, they reached a controversial one yesterday, which I’m sure you’re aware of.  And you know, we have excellent judges here who make important decisions.  I intend to follow the law as they lay it down.

Eileen Duff:  Well, I agree with you.  I think we do have excellent judges here.  But I have to say, as a woman and an advocate for people who really don’t have much of a voice — and some of our constituencies I think are probably the same.  I mean, I’m a big advocate for community courts.  I’m a big advocate for the disabled.  For people that don’t, you know, have an opportunity.

But, ahm, as a woman, I know that the choice, the right to choice and to control your own body, is, is paramount, and is being eroded state by state right now.

Gavin Reardon:  O.K.

Eileen Duff:  And, whatever any particular woman chooses, I’m not going to pass judgment on them.  That’s not my place.

Gavin Reardon:  It’s not my place.

Eileen Duff:  And that’s what I need to know.  Is that it’s – ahm.  Constituents are really, really concerned about this.  I mean, we have a presidential candidate saying women should be punished.  Ahm.  It, it’s –

Gavin Reardon:  Yes, I understand –

Eileen Duff:  It’s very, very frightening.  And this to me is a man’s issue.  It’s not just a woman’s issue.  Because if somebody makes a choice that I may not make – but I’m not going to sit in judgment on them.  And part of that is, you know, based on my faith belief.

Gavin Reardon:  What I can say is in my practice I’ve dealt with many, many family tragedies.  I’ve dealt with domestic violence murders.  I’ve dealt with restraining orders.  I’ve dealt with drug abuse.  I’ve dealt with battered women.  I’ve dealt with intimate partner violence.

My desire always is that people live happily and together without violence as independently as they can.  That’s my hope.


At that point Duff moved on to other topics. After a break, Duff resumed questioning. She tried to put her previous line of questioning about religion in context.

“You know, some of the reasons I’m asking you these questions, Attorney, is I’m a firm believer in the separation of church and state,” Duff said. “And I think it’s a very difficult thing for some – not for all of us, but for some. And, yet I don’t believe that anyone should ever deny their faith or their religion.”

She spoke about studying ministry in graduate school with Matthew Fox, a former Roman Catholic priest of the Dominican religious order who became an Episcopalian priest after being dismissed from the Dominicans in 1993 for denying the doctrine of original sin and for running a master’s program at a Catholic college with a faculty, according to The National Catholic Reporter, that “included a masseuse, a Zen Buddhist, a yoga teacher, and a self-described witch named Starhawk.”

Duff earned a doctorate in ministry in 2010 from Wisdom University in San Francisco, California, a school founded by Fox, according to, which compiles information about political candidates. Fox founded the school as the University of Creation Spirituality.

Duff also described growing up with a disabled sibling.

“And it formed me, very much, into who I am. And the reason I ask a lot of these questions, and why I’m so adamant about the rights of people that really sometimes literally don’t have a voice, is I believe that we are all held to a much higher standard, as able-bodied people, and electeds, and lawyers, and judges, and to protect those that can’t protect themselves,” Duff said. “So that is why I ask these questions. But it can be hard for some people to differentiate between the two things. And I feel compelled to, to ask these questions. And it’s not — I am not one for a gotcha. I’m not about that at all. But I would never deny my faith. I can tell you that. I don’t — And I’m not accusing you. But I don’t know why one would be a member of a Catholic organization and then not want to tell us that you’re a Roman Catholic.”

Attempts by New Boston Post to reach Duff on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were unsuccessful.

Reardon, who was confirmed by an 8-0 vote a week after the hearing by the Governor’s Council, including Duff’s vote, is now a judge in Worcester Superior Court. He could not be reached for comment last week.

Duff’s line of questioning was reported in October 2016 by a wire service that covers state government, but the story was not widely disseminated. Two wire service stories – one about the exchange and another a follow-up – used snippets of what Duff said, out of more than eight minutes of back-and-forth.

Only a handful of news outlets published the original wire story (from State House News Service). Among them were The Gloucester Daily Times, which covers the city where Duff lives and a portion of the district she represents; the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, which covers Shrewsbury, where Reardon lives; and NewBostonPost. An online search shows no story by The Boston Globe. The Boston Herald did not publish a news story about it, but mentioned the incident briefly in an editorial a few weeks later.

In October 2016, State House News Service in its followup reported criticism by a Republican opponent of Duff’s and quoted Duff as saying about the religion inquiry:  “It was an absolutely fair question. It wasn’t hostile. It wasn’t inappropriate.”

At the time snippets of the exchange between Duff and Reardon were initially reported in October 2016, a Roman Catholic activist – C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts — called on Duff to resign from the Governor’s Council for challenging a nominee along religious lines. Late last week, after being provided with a transcript of most of the exchange, Doyle said Duff’s actions were worse than he originally thought, because she appeared to demand that the nominee disavow a particular religious point of view in order to serve as a judge.

The U.S. Constitution (in Article VI) says “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 (in Torcaso v. Watkins) that states also cannot require a religious test for public office.

Doyle told NewBostonPost by email:


“Are you a Roman Catholic?” was the question posed by Massachusetts Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff at the judicial confirmation hearing of Attorney Gavin Reardon in 2016. It was, in all probability, a question never asked before of an appointee to public office in the then 240-year history of the United States of America. It was the sort of question one might expect from a judge of King’s Bench or Castle Chamber in Ireland in penal times.

On four occasions during the confirmation hearing, Duff asserted that the Catholic Church engages in discrimination. On two occasions, she either stated or implied that Catholic judges could not be trusted to abide by their oath of office.

On one occasion, she went so far as to imply that a Catholic judicial nominee could be disqualified, ipso facto, by belonging to an organization which practices discrimination, contrary to the disavowals expected of candidates in the Judicial Nominating Commission questionnaire.

Eileen Duff’s bigoted and malevolent intention was to exclude faithful Catholics from judicial office in the Commonwealth by castigating, indeed criminalizing, Catholicism as an incorrigible civil rights offender. In a sordid revival of the old dual loyalty canard, fidelity to the Catholic Church would, necessarily, render a citizen unfit for public service.

It was Duff, in her interrogation of Reardon, who sought to discriminate unlawfully, based upon creed, contrary to the explicit prohibitions of both federal and state civil rights statutes. Duff’s conduct during the Reardon hearing was another demonstration of the totalitarian instincts, the bitter anti-Catholic animus, and the sociopathic disregard for the rights and beliefs of others that has long characterized the public behavior of homosexual and lesbian activists in Massachusetts.


Duff’s relatively low-profile questioning of Reardon in October 2016 was followed by comparable higher-profile national cases.

In September 2017, almost a year after Duff’s questioning of Reardon in Boston, three Democratic U.S. senators in Washington D.C. asked a federal judgeship nominee questions about her Catholic faith. The senators — Dianne Feinstein of California, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii (at 1:14:48 of the C-Span video), and Richard Durbin of Illinois (at 1:29:50 of the C-Span video) — expressed concern that the nominee’s religious beliefs might prevent her from properly carrying out the work of a judge. (Feinstein focused on abortion, while Durbin focused on same-sex marriage.)  That nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed by the Senate and later joined the U.S. Supreme Court, where she now serves.

In December 2018, then-U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat, challenged a federal judgeship nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal order, as a means of probing his beliefs about abortion and same-sex marriage. The nominee, Brian Buescher, was eventually confirmed and is now a federal district court judge in Nebraska. Harris is now vice president of the United States.

Duff was first elected to the Governor’s Council in 2012. She has won re-election every two years since then, in low-profile races.

Elected members of the Governor’s Council are considered part time. They get a state salary of $36,025.

This past week Duff, a real estate agent, announced that she is running for state auditor, one of five statewide elective offices defined by the Massachusetts Constitution. The current state auditor, Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, announced last week that she is not running for re-election in 2022. Bump is on track to receive $190,989 in salary during calendar year 2021.

The state auditor, an office created in 1849, is supposed to provide oversight and accountability for government by reviewing state agencies and contracts and exposing corruption and inefficiency by issuing public reports.

The auditor usually draws the least attention of the five so-called constitutional offices. (The others are governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state treasurer.)

State auditor is an unusually safe office for incumbents. Bump, the current auditor, has served three four-year terms without being closely challenged for re-election. Her predecessor, A. Joseph DeNucci (1939-2017), served six terms, leaving only when he decided to retire. The last time an incumbent state auditor in Massachusetts lost a re-election bid was 1930, when Alonzo B. Cook, a Republican, lost to Francis X. Hurley, a Democrat.

The last Republican elected state auditor in Massachusetts was Russell Abner Wood in 1938.

Duff, when announcing her campaign online this past week, touted her eight years as a member of the Governor’s Council as among her qualifications to become state auditor.

“In my time as a Governor’s Councilor, I vetted potential judges and advised them of the awesome power they were to acquire, as well as the responsibilities that come along with that,” Duff said.