Barrett Believes. Does Biden?

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According to devotees of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personality cult, the ideal Supreme Court Justice is many things. She’s well-educated and professionally successful. She’s articulate. She possesses gravitas. She balances career and family. She cares for the vulnerable. Yet Democratic senators and progressive pundits insist that Amy Coney Barrett is definitely not that woman. But, eager to avoid charges of anti-Catholic bigotry, they tell us it has nothing to do with her religion. No, no! It’s simply that Judge Barrett, a former Notre Dame Law School professor, federal judge, and mother of seven (including two adopted from Haiti) actually believes and practices her Catholic faith—especially its teachings on human life and sexual ethics. That’s the problem.

In the 1960 Democratic Party primary, Massachusetts senator  and Catholic John F. Kennedy expertly exploited America’s historic anti-Catholicism to appeal to both Catholic voters and open-minded non-Catholics who were eager to avoid charges of anti-Catholic prejudice. Observing the resultant double standard, Kennedy’s opponent Hubert Humphrey (a Protestant), wryly commented: “Apparently it is perfectly okay for every person of the Catholic faith to vote for Kennedy, but if a Protestant votes for me then he is a bigot.”

Catholicism and double-standards in politics are once again a topic of conversation, given a presidential election featuring Catholic Democrat, Joe Biden, and the nomination of a politically conservative Catholic, Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court. E.J. Dionne, a progressive columnist and self-professed Catholic, writes in a September 27 op-ed that the GOP “wants to turn the confirmation process into a festival of double standards when it comes to religion.” Mr. Dionne argues that, while the GOP derides liberal questioning of the role of Barrett’s Catholic faith on the court, it has simultaneously (and hypocritically) attacked Joe Biden’s faith.

Mr. Dionne cites former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, who at this year’s GOP convention called Biden a “Catholic in name only” because of Biden’s pro-choice record. Mr. Dionne also calls out the conservative group CatholicVote, which spent $9.7 million in various battleground states labeling Mr. Biden—whom Mr. Dionne calls “devout—“as an “existential threat” to the Church. President Trump, meanwhile, has claimed that Mr. Biden would “hurt God” and “hurt the Bible,” too.

There’s also plenty of examples of liberal media and Democrats attacking Judge Barrett’s faith. Most famously was Senator Dianne Feinstein’s claim during a 2017 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the “dogma lives loudly” within Barrett. Since President Trump announced Judge Barrett to replace the late Justice Ginsburg, the Left has expressed a wide variety of concerns that Judge Barrett’s Catholicism is also a threat to America.

“Barrett tied to faith group ex-members say subjugates women,” reported the Associated Press on 28 September, referring to the nominee’s association with the charismatic group People of Praise. Regional female leaders of the organization were once called “handmaids,” something a 28 September Washington Post article noted was quite concerning given many Americans now associate that word with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a television program about a theocratic dystopian future. Who cares if the word is directly attributable to Mary’s response to Gabriel in Luke 1:38? Others have referred to the organization as a “secretive,” “fascist” cult.

Left-leaning publications have in turn implied that Barrett’s 2006 speech to Notre Dame Law School, in which she told graduating Catholic lawyers that the “end” of their careers “is building the kingdom of God,” is a violation of the separation of church and state. (It’s also official Church teaching. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church §526, 543-546, 2046.) An NPR article in turn notes that Barrett’s Catholicism is of an “unusual intensity and character,” including her participation in a Christian legal organization, Blackstone Legal Fellowship, that promotes a “distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law.”

The attacks on Barrett’s brand of Catholicism exposes a different, more insidious double standard. Senator Feinstein, the Democrats, and liberal media have attacked Barrett’s Catholicism on the grounds that it will influence her rulings on the bench. Yet the Left is perfectly fine with glowingly describing how Biden’s faith influences his politics. Senator Chris Coons at the Democratic National Convention declared that Mr. Biden’s respect for the dignity of all people who are “made in the image of God” was learned from “nuns and priests who inspired in him a passion for justice.” Nancy Pelosi declared that Biden’s faith “gives him the courage to lead.” In other words, the influence of Judge Barrett’s “extremist” Catholicism is worrisome, but Mr. Biden’s Catholicism positively affects his liberal beliefs on decency, social justice, and anti-racism.

The Democratic Party and left-leaning media have effectively determined what forms of Catholic faith and practice are acceptable and what are not. Attendance at anti-racism prayer vigils, volunteering at soup-kitchens, and having one’s pets blessed on the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi are all fine. Participating in prayer vigils outside abortion clinics or joining an organization that subscribes to traditional Church doctrine on sexuality are both bad.

Moreover, there is a substantial, obvious error with comparing the attacks leveled against Mr. Biden’s practice of Catholicism with those leveled against Judge Barrett’s. This is because criticisms of Mr. Biden focus on his failure to obey Church teaching, while criticisms of Judge Barrett focus on her faithfulness to it. Though lauded at the DNC as a “man of faith” whose values are shaped by his Catholic upbringing, Mr. Biden has been denied the Eucharist because of his stance on abortion.

Indeed, the presidential candidate has been outspokenly pro-choice for decades. Catholic leaders, including Bishop Emeritus Joseph Martino of Scranton and Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput have publicly warned Mr. Biden that he would be refused Holy Communion in their dioceses for his pro-choice stance.

Joe Biden is certainly a Catholic, by virtue of his baptism, but he’s one who publicly repudiates Church doctrine—especially on issues regarding sexuality and life. His campaign website has an entire page devoted to a pro-“LGBTQ” policy that will undoubtedly threaten religious liberty.

Judge Barrett, in contrast, has never been publicly censured by the Catholic hierarchy. Rather, she is criticized for being too Catholic—or to put it more accurately, for actually believing and practicing the Catholic faith. Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much from 1928, when the Catholic faith of Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith was described by Protestant Charles C. Marshall in the Atlantic Monthly as an existential threat to American democratic norms.

Ultimately, the discrepancies between Mr. Biden’s “devout” Catholicism and his political platform that directly contradicts magisterial teaching will be something for him and God to discuss. Yet as long as he plays the role of faithful Catholic politician, voters have every right to demand that Mr. Biden account for those discrepancies, because the Catholic religion is by no means a private one. Just ask Saint Thomas More, Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río, and Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, who were all murdered by agents of anti-Catholic regimes. Indeed, many American Catholics are concerned the United States will soon be a land of Catholic martyrs. If elected, will Mr. Biden prove otherwise?

[Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images News]

Casey Chalk

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Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at Crisis. He holds a Masters in Theology from Christendom College.

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