On September 6, 2017, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett sat down in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on her appointment to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. At the hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told Barrett, “When I read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.” Republicans accused Feinstein as well as others in her party of using a religious litmus test to decide whether Barrett was fit to serve on the court. Feinstein’s observation also became a rallying cry for Catholic conservatives against the left. Now that President Trump has nominated Barrett to fill the vacant seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the left’s anti-Catholicism has reared its ugly head once more.
The Democratic Party used to be the party of Catholicism. The first Catholic major-party presidential candidate in American history was Democrat Al Smith, who was defeated by his Republican opponent, Herbert Hoover, in 1928. Over 30 years later, Democrat John F. Kennedy, defeated Republican Richard Nixon in the Election of 1960 to become America’s first-ever Catholic president. Both of these men faced serious bigotry on the basis of their faith. Voters feared that both Smith and Kennedy would hand over control of the country to the Pope and create a Catholic hegemony. There are still nominal Catholics in the Democratic Party today, as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi grew up in the faith. However, both politicians have been denied the reception of Eucharist due to their public views on abortion.
Now that President Trump has nominated Barrett to fill the vacant seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the left’s anti-Catholicism has reared its ugly head once more.
The problem for Democrats comes when public servants actually believe the Catholic faith they profess. Rather than using the Catholic label for political purposes while supporting abortion and suing nuns who refused to pay for birth control as Joe Biden does, Barrett embraces her faith. Because of that, the left is now forcing Barrett to fight against the same conspiratorial nonsense that Smith and Kennedy did. No matter what her religious or political beliefs, Barrett has said multiple times that they do not influence her judicial philosophy. During her nomination acceptance speech, she said that “judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting any policy views they might hold.” During her hearings for her nomination to the appellate court, she replied to a question from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), “If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic — I am, although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.” She has also received plaudits from the other side of the aisle. Noah Feldman, a liberal lawyer who clerked with Barrett at the Supreme Court, wrote a glowing endorsement of her capabilities. “Barrett is also a profoundly conservative thinker and a deeply committed Catholic. What of it? Constitutional interpretation draws on the full resources of the human mind. These beliefs should not be treated as disqualifying,” he wrote.
The brunt of the criticism against Barrett’s faith has been her involvement with a Catholic community called People of Praise, and the attacks reveal how little people know about Catholicism. During Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit, Laurie Goldstein of The New York Times wrote a column expressing surprise at the group’s views. She wrote that its members give each other “direction on important decisions, including whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home and how to raise children.”
The act of giving advice she describes is called spiritual direction. When Catholics have a difficult decision to make, we often ask our priest for advice, just as any other believers do with their spiritual leaders. Moreover, nearly everyone asks for advice from people they trust. Whether it be coaches, teachers, or parents, the role of community members is to offer guidance. The only belief Goldstein brings up which could be mildly objectionable is: “[t]he group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.” Barrett is an accomplished legal professor who currently holds a seat on an appellate court and is likely going to upgrade to a seat on the Supreme Court. The group’s belief has obviously not limited or disadvantaged her, nor has it impressed upon her a view that women should be barefoot and pregnant all their lives.
Their real problem is what Barrett and her devout Catholicism represent. Radical feminists and radical traditionalists are two sides of the same coin: both groups believe that women can not have a family and a career.
Nevertheless, the attacks persist. Newsweek falsely claimed that People of Praise inspired Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. When that claim was rebutted, rather than pulling the piece, the publication changed the headline to say that Atwood got her ideas from groups like People of Praise. Villanova Professor of Theology Massimo Faggioli wrote that Barrett’s religious beliefs “aren’t off limits” and accused People of Praise of having an “authoritarian structure.” Instead of criticizing her on her record or her nomination process, leftists have attacked her for her faith.
Their real problem is what Barrett and her devout Catholicism represent. Radical feminists and radical traditionalists are two sides of the same coin: both groups believe that women can not have a family and a career. They differ only in priorities. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan pushes the narrative that women are held captive by marital life, a condition from which they can find no fulfillment. Friedan’s thinking is also present today. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “perfectly educated” women do not have large families with seven or more kids. A mother of seven and an accomplished jurist, Barrett is a rebuttal to these erroneous views. Still, second and third-wave feminists like Friedan and her disciples wish to cast all Catholics as patriarchs who wish to subjugate women. In an effort to divide the sexes, they have created a narrative of what a woman should be. She can not be a conservative Catholic, she can not be a happy mother of seven, and she sure as hell can not be pro-life.