When Al Smith ran for the presidency in 1928, concerns were raised in some circles about the influence the pope would have on American politics. Those same concerns were raised when John F. Kennedy ran in 1960. Since Kennedy’s election, most have concluded that the American people have put to rest their anti-Catholic politics. There are, after all, a number of Catholics in Congress, and Catholics have been nominated by both major parties to run as candidates. The Al Smith Dinner is held every four years during the presidential campaign. Both major candidates are invited, and neither would think if missing it.
However, a disturbing trend has developed recently. That trend is of questioning the competence of political appointees, especially judges, to serve because of their personal adherence to Catholic doctrine. These objections have mostly come from Democrats. They have not been subtle about why they question the competence of these nominees.
Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) famously told Amy Coney Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you” during her questioning of Barrett for consideration for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, making statements that indicated her concern over Barrett’s views on abortion. Barrett was confirmed by a Republican-majority Senate. But, only last month, Katherine Asjes was rejected for the Iowa Board of Medicine by the Iowa legislature because of her adherence to Church teaching on contraception, homosexual acts, and same-sex marriage. All the votes against her were cast by Democrats.
Now, Gordon Giampietro, former assistant U. S. attorney in Wisconsin, has been informed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D, WI) that she will not submit a “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee, signifying her approval of his nomination for a seat on the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Traditionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee does not move forward on nominees who do not receive the support from their state’s senators. There is no word yet whether Baldwin’s rejection of Giampietro will sink his nomination.
Why did Baldwin reject Giampietro? Because he is a devout Catholic who adheres to the teaching of the Church on marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman. Mr. Giampietro has expressed his position on marriage both in print and on radio. Sharon McGowan, director of strategy for Lambda Legal, an organization that works for LGBTQ rights, said, “Mr. Giampietro is just the latest [trump judicial nominee] to get caught red-handed voicing his bigotry on air. … This type of prejudice and bias have no place in Wisconsin and no place in our federal courts.”
The “bigotry” of which McGowan accuses Giampietro is his holding to the view of marriage taught by the Western religious tradition for three or more millennia and codified in the laws of every nation in the world until about ten years ago.
May 24 will be the last day in service as chaplain for the House of Representatives for Patrick Conroy, SJ. While he is not revealing the reasons he asked Fr. Conroy to resign, a great deal of speculation by Democrats and Republicans is that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R, WI) was piqued by a prayer Fr. Conroy offered when Congress was considering the Republican-favored tax plan last November. Fr. Conroy prayed that Congress be led by God to find a way to make sure there were no “winners and losers under the new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.” Rumor has it that Ryan interpreted that as a knock against the Republican plan and told Fr. Conroy to “stay out of politics.” Apparently, there is a bipartisan effort to keep Fr. Conroy at his post until the end of the year. The Catholic Church has long challenged her members to regard the needs of all, especially the most vulnerable, in making laws. Was Fr. Conroy’s forced exit in response to his effort to remind Congress of this, and to ask God that they be led to do so?
In 2003, William Pryor was nominated to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Charles Schumer (D, NY) openly questioned whether Pryor’s “deeply held beliefs” would make it possible for him to be objective in his rulings. Way back in 1991, when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, then governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, told reporters that he thought Thomas ought to reveal his views on abortion during the confirmation proceedings, because Wilder was under the impression that Thomas was a devout Catholic. “The question is,” Wilder asked then, “How much allegiance is there to the pope?” Wilder took a lot of heat for his remarks that raised the spectre of fear of “papist” influence in American politics and offered one of those “if they’re offended, then I apologize” conditional apologies.
The trend of politicians questioning the competence and objectivity of devout Catholics to serve in public life is a disturbing one. For many years, those doubts were raised on the grounds of Catholic teaching on abortion. Now, along with abortion, Catholics are being challenged on the question of same-sex marriage, and even the Church’s traditional concern for the poor. The message is clear: If you are a devout Catholic, you are not fit for public office or public service. That is a dangerous precedent.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.