I was visiting my elderly parents in Lynchburg, Virginia this Sunday and, as usual, I watched a video of the local Catholic mass service with them. I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I was raised Catholic and there is—in some cases– much to recommend the religion. There are also serious problems and, frankly, obvious hypocrisies on full display during many of these ceremonies.
Today was a good example. The priest was near tears trying to express the dismay he felt that a Supreme Court nominee might be denied a seat on the court merely because she professed openly that she thought her judicial work ought to ‘further the Kingdom of God’…He spent a lot of time being alarmed about our ‘godless’ society and how we seem to have thrown out religion and by conflation a moral compass entirely.
It was, in many ways, an unremarkable sermon, given the deeply conservative parish in the heart of Lynchburg, Virginia. There was a real difficulty though—even from the perspective of a conservative Catholic– in its premise that Amy Coney Barret wanted to bring the ‘Catholic’ view of ‘respect for life’ to the Supreme Court. That just isn’t true and the assertion itself is based on a lie. To be precise, Amy Coney Barret is willing to bring her ‘Catholic’ views on abortion to the Supreme Court, and will happily act on them, but that’s just about it. Yet, that’s hardly the Catholic view of ‘respect for life’…and Amy Coney Barret is well aware of that, too.
Let’s begin with the obvious, the Catholic doctrine regarding respect for life goes far beyond unborn fetuses. … There are issues with serving in the military, issues with immigration relief and, of course, issues with capital punishment. With a little squinting, the Catholic views on all of these are usually consonant with the New Testament. In other words, we should not be fighting in any wars except a so called ‘Just’ war’, that is, wars of self-defense. We should be sharing our communal space with hungry neighbors (i.e., immigrants), and, of course, we should be against capital punishment. In fact, the New Testament never mentions ‘abortions’ at all, but that’s another can of worms.
With regard to Amy Barret, I suspect she may actually agree with these Catholic views, to an extent anyhow. And she apparently understands the notion of separating her religious views from her more formal state ordained duties. In fact, in an article for the Marquette Law Review titled: “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases.” Barrett explicitly argued that “Catholic judges should recuse themselves from cases that involve the death penalty. She argued that the Catholic Church’s moral stance against the death penalty might make it impossible for Catholic judges to dispense the impartial justice citizens are entitled to.”
So far, so good. This is the Kennedy standard, the Kaine standard, the Biden standard. Only problem is, Barret only applies it to capital punishment—a conservative must have, but not abortion—a conservative must never have. The Catholic Church of course, apparently not versed in GOP orthodoxy makes no such distinction, but Amy Coney Barret does. According to the Nation magazine, on the Seventh Circuit, she has sought to impose herself on abortion decisions that weren’t even on her desk. In 2018, a three-judge panel invalidated an Indiana law requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated. Barrett voted to reconsider the ruling in front of the full circuit. Her side lost, but the Supreme Court eventually reinstated the law. In 2019, Barret again voted to have a case reviewed before the full circuit that involved requiring girls under the age of 18 to receive consent from a parent before getting an abortion, including girls who had already received a court order allowing them to have one.
These are not the actions of a person trying to keep their personal beliefs out of an abortion debate. Quite the opposite.
Barret wants it both ways, recusal based on her beliefs when it involves saving a human’s life from the death penalty, but no word of her belief structure when it comes to abortion cases—for which she should also recuse herself–but she does not. It’s a kind of morality that’s applied only when it’s politically convenient. There’s a word for this: hypocrisy.
As Joan Walsh quipped acerbically, “She’ll put herself between a woman and her doctor but won’t stand in front of an executioner and a defenseless prisoner.”
But there is a consistent ideology in all of this—it just has nothing to do with her Catholicism. It’s all about her extremist conservative views that are okay with the death penalty but not abortion.
In fact, to arrive at her position she actually has to ignore the moral and ethical underpinnings of her faith. She is the worst type of person to put on the Supreme Court, not specifically because she wants to ‘advance the Kingdom of God’ (although that’s still problematic)… and certainly not because she’s a faithful Catholic, but because she is a fierce conservative ideologue—and she hypocritically uses her religion, and the New Testament ‘respect for life’ as a shield for a cruel ideology which neither respects life, nor ultimately, the Catholic religion.