How Catholic is Kaine?

A recent flattering article in the New Yorker describes Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate, as a “devout Roman Catholic.” Not only that, but the paean proceeds to declare that the pious senator “is more comfortable quoting Scripture than any Democrat to reach the level of Presidential politics since Jimmy Carter.” There is more: “When “(a)sked to name his heroes, Kaine begins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian who was executed by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.”

Whew, a veritable martyr in the making, as all Catholics should be, one might think. Yet, Senator Kaine does not make clear exactly for what principles he would be willing to die. To put it mildly, he seems rather fuzzy on his Catholic doctrine, and I am not sure what gives the New Yorker, not known for its Catholicism, to say nothing of its Catholic orthodoxy, the right to determine who is, or who is not, a “devout Catholic.”

Of course, the Church herself does have that right. In a statement last July, Bishop Thomas Tobin, of the diocese of Providence, declared,

Senator Kaine has said, “My faith is central to everything I do.” But apparently, and unfortunately, his faith isn’t central to his public, political life.

No kidding. Kaine is no Thomas More. The aforementioned article mentions that “[s]ome Catholics criticize Kaine for his political support of abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women as priests.”

But Kaine has a reply at the ready. In line with his apparent proclivity to quote Scripture, he compares himself, with some degree of unaware hubris one might think, to the Good Samaritan:

Who’s beaten up and lying on the side of the road now? Is it somebody in an immigration detention camp? Is it an L.G.B.T. kid who’s going to a high school and getting bullied and feeling not only bullied in high school but feeling like the governor of their state is kicking them around?

As is the wont of too many politicians, Mr. Kaine avoids the central point and obfuscates the issues at hand. There is a long and tortuous road from unjust discrimination against homosexuals and immigrants (which we are all against) to the folly of same-sex “marriage” and the dismantling of our borders. The question, rather, should not begin with what we should do with immigrants and “L.G.B.T” kids, but what one believes about the truth, and how that makes, or does not make, one a “Catholic.”

The first and foundational requisite for being a member of the Church (indeed, of any religious body) is faith, which the Church defines as “an act of the intellect, assenting to the divine truth, by command of the will, moved by God through grace.” This definition in the Catechism (par. 155) is drawn from Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his treatise on faith in the Summa Theologica (II-II q.2 a.9).

We may begin with faith at its most basic natural level: Most of what we think we “know,” we actually hold by faith. Few of us could prove that the chemical formula for water is H2O, or that Antarctica exists, or even what people tell us about themselves, but we by and large accept these truths, assenting to the authority from whence they come.

Of course, some truths seem more reasonable to us, and are held with greater firmness, than others. To answer why this is the case, Thomas draws a distinction between the formal and material objects of faith: The formal object is the authority in which we put our trust: scientists, books, bridge builders, friends, teachers. The material objects are the truths we hold based on this authority: Chemical formulae, the stability of bridges, the trustworthiness of our acquaintances, the truth given by teachers.

Very simply, the material object is what we believe, the formal object is why we believe it (cf., II-II q.1 a.1).

The same holds true for faith at the supernatural level, as a theological virtue, but here the formal object is God himself, who speaks through Christ and his Church. The material object is the truth of what he speaks, all the myriad and necessary truths revealed for salvation.

Which brings us to the key difference between natural and supernatural faith, namely, the authority of the formal object: God cannot be “wrong,” and he ensures that all the truth taught definitively by his Church on faith and morals is guarded by the charism of infallibility.

That is why, unlike natural faith, one must hold all the truths revealed by God through his Church, for to deny even just one is to deny not merely one aspect of the material object (as can be done with a fallible natural authority), but rather the authority of the formal object, God himself.

As Saint Thomas puts it in his own pithy way, answering his own question whether a heretic may still maintain faith after rejecting one revealed truth:

Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things (II-II. q.5 a.3).

Alternative Sources of Authority
I always wonder what other religions have as their “formal object.” Protestants confess sola Scriptura, but how reliable, really, is one’s own personal interpretation of the Bible? They all depend to some extent on the traditions and the authority of their various ecclesial communities, but even these, to a greater or lesser degree, have drifted from the truth. Islam professes absolute belief in the Qur’an, but the various derivations have become so unhinged from objective truth in so many fundamental ways, it hardly needs explanation. And what really are the moral teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism? Is anything binding, and even if it is, is it true and connatural to who we are as human beings made in God’s image?

As far as avowed atheists go, their only source of moral authority is their own fallible and self-justifying reason. Perhaps, as Vatican II teaches, they can dimly hear the voice of God in this way through the whisperings of conscience, but they more often than not go way off base (cf., Lumen Gentium, 16).

It seems clear that if God is really communicating with us human beings, we would need something like the Catholic Church, with an official Magisterium, teaching with the infallible authority of Christ, which binds us in conscience to the truth.

I must admit that I have no primary sources nor first-hand evidence for Mr. Kaine’s opinions, nor how nuanced his positions are, but his avowed, unabashed and unwavering support for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, two of the most vocal and intransigent pro-abortion-rights politicians ever to walk this Earth since the days of Carthage, speaks volumes.

Suffice to say here that, whatever his opinions, all of the truths listed in the New Yorker piece, abortion, male-only priesthood, homosexual “marriage,” have been clearly defined by the Catholic Church, binding not only upon Catholics but, in an extended sense, upon all of mankind.

Teachings that are Binding on Kaine’s Conscience
To take but a sample: Here is Pope John Paul II on the doctrine of the male-only priesthood from the conclusion to his 1992 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful (par. 4).

This teaching was clarified by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a Responsum from 1995:

Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: Affirmative.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

Don’t you just love the clarity and precision of Cardinal-Ratzinger-Pope Benedict?

And, back to John Paul for the truth about abortion from his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae:

Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine—I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (par. 62).

I know not whether Mr. Kaine has read these sources. Even if he has, he may try to wriggle out, claiming that he is only doing the “will of the people” or some other democratic doublespeak.

But not so fast, Senator. As Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, discussing the role of the laity, declares:

Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience (christiana conscientia duci debere), since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion (Dei imperio) (Lumen Gentium, 36).

One would think this would apply most especially to a politician, who has the weighty task of instantiating laws and policies that impact the most fundamental aspects of our existence for a long time to come.

In reference to just such a politician’s duty to his country, we return to John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae:

It is therefore urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential and innate human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and promote (par. 71).

How does Tim Kaine reconcile these words with his own would-be president’s support for Roe vs. Wade, in fact, for the killing of the “fetus” right up to the very moment of birth, a heinous position upon which Mrs. Clinton doubled down in the final presidential debate? She, and we may presume Kaine, see nothing wrong with a court and legal system committed to the wholesale murder of the unborn at the whim of their mothers.

The same pope taught earlier in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus that

[I]t must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism (par. 46).

As Father Rutler wrote recently, the spate of leaked anti-Catholic emails from the Clinton campaign hint that such a “totalitarianism” foreseen by the great pope may not be too far off. In fact, in many ways, it is already upon us.

Identifying an Ill-formed Conscience is Not “Judging”
Of course, Tim Kaine is “free,” from one point of view, to reject these truths, even to ignore the teaching authority of the Church herself, as do so many of his fellow “Catholics.” He may even choose to participate in what may well be the Clinton regime’s future persecution of right-minded (or, in his mind, wrong-minded) Christians. But in doing so, he is not “free” to describe himself, or to be described, as representative of Catholic teaching, or even as a “devout” (more properly “orthodox”) Catholic. For then he is usurping the right of the Church to define herself, and the truths she holds, which ultimately means he is putting himself in the place of Christ, of God, to determine what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, which, come to think of it, sounds sort of familiar…

Of course, no one can read the conscience of Mr. Kaine except, to some degree, Mr. Kaine himself. I know not the state of his soul; he may well believe what he says; he is likely a devoted husband and father, who pays his taxes and dutifully takes out the garbage. I am simply assessing the opinions he seems to hold, or that he wants people to think he holds. I make no attempt to “judge” him. However, as a spiritual work of mercy, if I were ever to get a quiet moment with the senator, I would remind him of what the Second Vatican Council taught in its document on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae:

On their part, all men are bound (tenentur) to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it (par. 1).

And, later in the same Declaration:

The disciple is bound by a grave obligation (gravi officio) toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it… (par. 14).

How each of us lives up to these grave obligations is a matter of our conscience, where God speaks in the depths of our souls, and this can only really be perfectly and, yes, infallibly, judged by the same God, who “probes the mind and the heart,” and whose Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” It is before the blazing eye of the Creator that all of us will one fateful day stand naked and alone, to give an account for what we have done, and not done, for the least of our brethren, and that includes the unborn. Peruse Matthew, chapter 25. As Saint Francis of Assisi claimed, “what a man is before God, that he is, and nothing more.”

As the Church has always taught, we make ourselves “who we are” by our actions, which in turn flow from the principles we hold: “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” We may therefore assess others by the principles they profess to hold, especially if they ask for our vote (or even to babysit our children). We must all be clear about the truth in these dark and troubled times for although charity is a greater virtue than faith, indeed the greatest, one cannot have true charity without true faith. For without faith, and the truth which this virtue offers to our reason to guide all else we do, our apparent “good works” descend into banal sentimentality and, eventually, downright evil, as we have so sadly witnessed in the support for abortion, and now murder-suicide (under the gentle Greek name of euthanasia), along with all the other various manifestations of the culture of death, much of which is more-or-less official Democratic (and here in Canada: “Liberal”) party policy.

We may hope that, whatever the culpability of his erroneous conscience (and erroneous it is), Tim Kaine, (and the rest of the “Catholic,” and even non-Catholic politicians, bereft of many of even the most basic principles of the natural moral law) awaken from their darkened slumber before it is too late. For although they talk a big game about Good Samaritanism, love, freedom and values, these mean nothing if not exercised in the truth, the fullness of which is found only in the one true Church.

(Photo credit: George Sheldon / Shutterstock)

John Paul Meenan

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John Paul Meenan is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Natural Science at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada. He edits and writes at Catholic Insight.

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