Joan Walsh, writing for The Nation magazine, explains that as a Catholic, she finds it offensive how Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s “extremist beliefs” have been equated with Catholicism. Walsh explains:
Still, as a Catholic I find it offensive to see Barrett’s extremist beliefs equated with Catholicism or the views of American Catholics. We support a woman’s right to choose [abortion] in most circumstances. An overwhelming majority support contraception, and Catholics are slightly more likely to back marriage equality than other Americans. Most American Catholics support parity in gender relations, and reject the notion that the man is the ‘head’ of the family. (Not even Pope Francis preaches that, though he opposes abortion, contraception, and the ordination of women.)
It’s ironic Walsh takes offense at Barrett’s moral beliefs being associated with Catholicism when those very beliefs constitute core teachings of the Catholic faith. Her circular argument ends with a self-defeating point when Walsh acknowledges that Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, also opposes abortion and contraception (in line, allegedly, with Barrett’s views).
Walsh Doesn’t Understand Catholics
Walsh appears to have a gross misunderstanding of what being Catholic means, equating Catholicism with statistical polling data of the personal views of 20th- and 21st-century American demographics, as opposed to living in accordance with the spiritual and moral teachings of the Catholic faith. As implicit evidence that Barrett’s views are offensive to Catholicism, Walsh points to polls wherein more than 50 percent of Americans who identify as Catholics support legal abortion while more than 40 percent do not.
Walsh might not have gotten the memo that Catholic teaching considers abortion an intrinsic evil, the killing of an innocent human child in the womb, and that the moral teachings of the Catholic faith are not based on polling data about what many nominal Catholics believe. That would be an incredibly empty and superficial “faith.” Instead, the faith is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ as articulated in Scripture and tradition, passed down to the apostles, and interpreted by the pope and the bishops as members of the magisterium, the divinely inspired teaching body of the church.
Walsh’s logic is absolutely nonsensical. In Barrett, she attacks a devout Catholic for having beliefs that are true to Catholic morality, portraying them as offensive to Catholicism. To say there is a logical fallacy here would be a gross understatement.
The Inevitable Complains at Catholic Teaching on Abortion
In another hit piece on Barret for the Nation, Elie Mystal explains of his own Catholic identity: “I’m Catholic myself (‘raised Catholic,’ I think, is the official term for somebody like me who is pretty sure God doesn’t exist but baptizes their kids to hedge that bet).”
Notwithstanding his obvious spiritual and theological contradiction, not to mention religious identity crisis, Mystal writes with confidence that it is Barrett’s views which “seem to conflict with the moral teachings of almost any religion.” Mystal criticizes that Barrett wrote a law review article with John Garvey considering the possibility of Catholic judges recusing themselves from cases pertaining to the death penalty, yet years later as a judge, Barrett was willing to hear cases pertaining to abortion.
“What this means is that Barrett is unwilling to impose her theocratic views to save a man’s life, but she is very likely willing to take dominion over a woman’s body for nine months, forcing them to bring an unwanted pregnancy to term,” Mystal writes. “She’ll put herself between a woman and her doctor but won’t stand in front of an executioner and a defenseless prisoner. That incongruity doesn’t sound like the devout position of a religious adherent; it sounds like some bullshit dreamed up by Federalist Society hypocrites more concerned with using that law to control women than with serving God.”
Barrett Is Consistent in Her Views
Actually, if Mystal genuinely had an interest in the congruity of “the devout position of a religious adherent,” as he writes, and a better understanding of the moral teachings of his own Catholic faith, he should take comfort in the fact that Barrett did, indeed, act in line with her Catholicism on these matters.
Mystal is playing a classic propaganda card with euphemistic language. Instead of acknowledging the tragic death of a human child in the womb, which abortion causes, he chooses to conceal the fact with the language of “a woman’s body” and the seemingly insidious desire of the Federalist Society, as a legal organization, “to control women.”
Unlike Catholic abortion doctrine, its teaching on the death penalty has been more nuanced than complete opposition. Although Pope Francis recently made revisions to the Catechism of the Catholic Church by rendering the death penalty “inadmissible” — which is not the same moral status as “intrinsically evil,” such as abortion and euthanasia — for centuries and all the way up to the papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the death penalty was permitted as a last resort for protecting its people against the violence of a criminal.
Mystal finishes his article by emphasizing, “If Barrett ruled like a devout Catholic all the time, that would be one thing. But she doesn’t. She rules like an extremist conservative all the time, and just uses religion to justify those extremist positions when it is convenient for her to do so.”
Barrett Isn’t Using Religion
Of course, this statement is misleading and blatantly false. One also senses a tone of desperation and frustration in it that might be driving its irrational, emotional conclusions.
In Barrett’s various comments regarding the proper role of a judge or justice, she has emphasized that the person’s religious beliefs should have no effect on her judicial interpretation. Thus, it makes no sense to say Barrett “uses religion” to justify “extremist positions when it is convenient to do so” when, as a judge, she has never used religion to justify anything. As a judicial originalist and textualist in the tradition of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett uses the original intent and textual understanding of the U.S. Constitution to justify her decisions.
Both Mystal and Walsh appear to be using a similar tactic against Barrett. They are aware of how inappropriate it is to attack a person’s religion. Therefore, they paint Barrett as having “extremist views” that are not aligned with true Catholicism in order to justify their attacks against her religion.
A close examination shows, however, that these writers are attacking not “extremist views” but authentically Catholic views. For Catholics who no longer believe in God or the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, those can be a real threat.