Last week we were treated to the spectacle of three Democrat senators, one of whom alleges to be Catholic, hazing a nominee for a seat on a US circuit court over her being an out and proud and orthodox Catholic. Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett had been nominated to the Seventh Circuit and Dianne Feinstein, the aptly named Dick Durbin, and (I kid you not) Mazie Hirono took turns at arguing that she was a little too religious to be a judge.
This harkened back to the dark days of the Know Nothing Party and the formation of the Ku Klux Klan of the modern era and the Blaine Amendments. The insinuation is that Catholics are somehow not loyal Americans, that their religion is too foreign, and if they hold public office they will listen to Rome rather than fulfill their oath to the Constitution.
For once, major media came to the defense of a religious person and across the spectrum of ideology there was general agreement that the questions directed at Professor Barrett were improper and out of bounds.
Then Pope Francis stepped into the arena. (See Kimberley Ross’s story for all the details.) As happens so often on controversial issues, he made a statement which did nothing to help the Church but which seems calculated to let him pat himself on the back. He made a statement on the ending of DACA which, roughly translated from the original gibberish, says:
“I have heard the President of the United States speak,” the pope said, responding to a question from a Mexican journalist about Trump’s decision. “He presents himself as a pro-life man. If he is a good pro-lifer, he should understand that the family is the cradle of life and you must defend its unity.”
Francis said that while he has not studied the specifics of the DACA program, he believes “removing young people from their family is not a thing that bears good fruit, neither for the young person nor the family.”
The pope said he is especially worried about young people who become detached from their roots and lose hope in the future, even then choosing to commit suicide. “Young people today need to re-find their roots,” he said. “And anything that goes against this robs them of hope.”
As a Catholic and an American, I find this statement to be in equal parts bizarre and wildly inappropriate. My first thought is that he doesn’t even understand what he’s commenting on. More to the point, his commentary has nothing to do with either faith or morals (and if it did, I’m still not all that sure it would apply to Trump). It is a public policy decision that, in our system of government, lies within the purview of the Congress. It is not “pro-life” when an elected official decides to usurp powers to which he is not entitled and enforce laws based on his whim. The Catechism clearly recognizes the right of societies to order themselves to promote the common good and controlling immigration definitely falls into this category. This kind of mucking about in a divisive issue and coming down on the side of ignoring the law and the Constitution is not helpful.
But, I think it gives Feinstein, et al, the opening they need to defend their position. What will a Judge Barrett, as an orthodox Catholic, do when confronted with a legal case where the law and the Pontiff are in disagreement? Where will their real loyalties lie? Can we take the chance?