When someone looks at a Catholic and describes what he thinks he sees, it often tells us more about him. Two recent examples have cast a worrying light about perceptions harbored in some circles about the teachings of the Church as lived out in society.
At a Sept. 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, a University of Notre Dame law professor nominated for a federal judgeship, two senators took issue with matters relating to Barrett’s Catholic faith.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” observed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took issue with Barrett’s use of the term “orthodox Catholic,” asking, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”
The line of questioning was enough to draw a rebuke from Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, who wrote of Barrett in a letter to Sen. Feinstein on Sept. 9. “I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates. It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom ‘dogma lives loudly’ — which is a condition we call faith.”
These senators haven’t been alone in their fundamental misunderstanding of the Faith lived out in public life. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon said in an interview that aired Sept. 10 that the U.S. Catholic bishops have been “terrible” on the issue of immigration.
“By the way, you know why,” he told interviewer Charlie Rose. “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. ... They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.” Only sheer audacity, coupled with ignorance and a flare for the provocative, could lead Feinstein, Durbin and Bannon to a place so profoundly out of step with what it means to be Catholic in America today.
While voices within the Church rose quickly to counter both claims — Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said the senators’ line of questioning was “contrary to our Constitution” and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York called Bannon’s comments “insulting and ridiculous” — it was Pope Francis who remarked that “the president of the United States presents himself as pro-life, and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected.” The pope’s statements were made during an in-flight news conference from Colombia to Rome in response to a question about President Donald Trump’s recent decision to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
With that one statement, the pope reminds us that the Church’s defense and promotion of human life at every stage is so simple. Yet how often do we miss the point and lapse into the use of caricatures, rather than see the dignity of each person?
If one sees abortion as a social good, then it is impossible for that person to fathom how the world looks for those who believe that caring for human life, even from its earliest stages, is the utmost priority. Similarly, recognizing that human dignity calls on us to serve migrants in all their struggles is going to be incomprehensible to someone looking at the world primarily through an economic lens.
Pope Francis reminds us that the Church always calls us to care for the human person in his or her entirety. And it’s through this lens that we find the truth about what it means to be Catholic.
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor