Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics’

Back in the middle of last month, I tweeted this about a group that was planning to spend millions trying to prevent the election of our second Catholic president:

That led to a somewhat extended discussion with Chad Connelly, former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina and founder of Faith Wins, a group that aims to engage Christians in the public arena. I’m not sure of Chad’s denominational beliefs, but he seems to have a sharply defined idea of what we Catholics are supposed to believe. It has to do with one issue — actually, one monolithic aspect of one issue. Guess which one:

The Catholic Church still condemns abortion though right, so it makes sense the church and Christian leaders within would denounce Biden’s 47 year history & consistency of being okay with killing babies? I’d hope any catholic group would work against his policies.

My first response was: “Chad, that’s right. Our opposition to abortion is one of many, many important teachings of the church. So yes, many people grab onto that one in order to allow themselves to ignore all the ways Trump ignores and violates other profoundly fundamental teachings.”

If you want to read the full discussion, it’s attached to the tweet embedded above.

Anyway, readers of this blog know of my unwavering opposition to abortion. Some of you might even realize that’s one aspect of Cardinal Bernardin’s Seamless Garment — a fully-developed respect and reverence for human life, to which I also try to adhere. Among the many things the cardinal said and wrote about it:

Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.

It’s kind of what, you know, the pope teaches:

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly…. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in (the) world.

Is the pope Catholic? I tend to think so, because I’m Catholic, and that’s what I believe. (Other, far more authoritative, sources would also, I believe, support his being about as Catholic as one gets — hence the joke.) Being pro-life means caring about all sorts of things, all sorts of people — including, for instance, those who live in “shithole countries,” to quote the man whom some people inexplicably believe Catholics should follow. You know, the guy who said “I am pro-choice in every respect,” until it was to his advantage to do a 180.

Excuse me for using such language while discussion religion. But as jarring as that is, it helps express just how far Donald Trump is from being someone a Catholic, or any follower of Jesus Christ, should support. And indeed, half of Catholics voted against him in 2016. I hope more of us will this time.

But don’t just listen to me on this.

I loved this piece by Jeannie Gaffigan, wife of the comedian Jim Gaffigan. I’ve even started watching some of his standup on Netflix, for the first time, since reading it. But I’m more a fan of his wife. She’s the one I now follow on Twitter. Anyway, she just recently wrote this great column for the Jesuit magazine America headlined, “My loved ones told me ‘real’ Catholics vote for Trump. Here’s my response.” Some excerpts:

My critics seemed to conclude: If you don’t support Mr. Trump, you, Jeannie Gaffigan, mother of five, are a pro-abortion, “fake Catholic.”…

Jeannie Gaffigan

Jeannie Gaffigan

Here is my confession: I am a real Catholic, and I am not going to vote for Donald J. Trump….

My faith, family and Catholic education have given me the belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Human life is sacred, and all humans have equal value. Of course, this means it is wrong to intentionally take a human life under any circumstances, but it is also wrong to disregard human life through racism, unjust social and economic structures, providing inadequate access to health care, wantonly harming the environment, abusing or neglecting anyone—a child, a mother, a father, a grandparent, an immigrant. I am not sure how one thing that harms a life can be weighted more strongly than another, but based on the reaction to Jim’s now-infamous tweetstorm, it is abundantly clear that there is a segment of the Catholic Church that feels that the single issue of abortion, for lack of a better word, trumps every other evil…

Actually, I just want to quote the whole thing, but I don’t want the Jesuits coming after me for violating their copyright. So I urge you to go read the whole thing yourself. If you don’t read anything else about how real Catholics should approach this election, read this.

Oh, I can’t hold back. One more quote:

As much as some of my well-intended fellow Catholics will hate to hear this, it is crystal clear to me that the right thing to do is vote for Joe Biden. I believe it will be impossible to tackle these other issues with a president who is working overtime to sow division and hatred in this county through insults, intimidation, fear and blatant racism. This venomous “us against them” mentality is trickling down, seeping into our churches and poisoning our pulpits. To a culture of life, vipers are deadly….

Are you seeing a consistent theme (say, a consistent ethic of life) running through what she, the pope and Cardinal Bernardin said? Yeah, me too. And if you go read the Gospels, you’ll see Jesus was pretty much in keeping with this point of view as well. Or rather, they’re in keeping with him.

Let me finish with a column E.J. Dionne wrote in recent days. It was about something Pope Francis just wrote — and, as previously mentioned, the Pontiff is way Catholic.

It was headlined, “The pope’s unexpected election message.” You should read that, too.

We are not accustomed to a hearing from a pope, a month before Election Day, who criticizes “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism,” and castigates those who, through their actions, cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”

E.J. Dionne

E.J. Dionne

Nor is it in our political playbook that a pope would call out an “every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”

Or say this: “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”

These are all Pope Francis’s words from his encyclical letter released Sunday, “Fratelli Tutti.” It translates literally “Brothers All,” words drawn from St. Francis of Assisi, although Francis was quick, in his first sentence, to address “brothers and sisters.” His purpose was to advance a worldview that stresses, as he put it, “the communitarian dimension of life” and values “fraternity and social friendship.”…

E.J. quickly adds that there is “no evidence that the pope is trying to influence the contest between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.” Basically, the Holy Father (that’s something we Catholics call the pope, you see) says stuff like this all the time.

Which kind of makes you wonder why some Catholics don’t listen when he does…


39 thoughts on “Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics’

  1. Bill

    Now, I can order in Latin
    Make it, “Au gratin, Joe”
    I’m an old altar boy
    That’s why I’m so depressed
    I never got the rest of the dream
    Just the ritual, now I’m habitual
    Majoring in crimes that are
    Unspeakable, because I’m an old
    Altar boy, that’s what happened to me
    I’m an old altar boy who’s hoping
    He can meet a woman dressed
    Like a nun, he knows there’s got to
    Be some around here, drinking across
    From the church a little Father Cribari wine
    On a Sunday morning time…

  2. Mark Huguley

    It is with immense regret that I read of fellow Catholics supporting Donald Trump. Support for Trump by Catholics and other Christians is badly misplaced. One never knows Trump’s true positions, except they are not Christian. They are impossible to properly assess because what he says is unreliable. He seldom articulates a clear position and frequently lies or changes what he says. Put plainly, Trump’s life does not reflect Christ.

    Trump’s life exemplifies immoral and unethical behavior. He engages in illegal business practices, and he disparages public service by the courts, the intelligence community, environmental agencies, and health agencies. He denies medical experts in his pronouncements about the COVID-19 pandemic, and in turn, endangers others. Therefore, he risks American lives and shows little regard for others. Catholic support for Trump is, well, unholy. How can Trump be acceptable to the Church and its members given his past and on-going misdeeds?

    As a retired intelligence analyst, I assess Trump’s divisive remarks as contributing to the recent plot to overthrow the Michigan government and kidnap the governor. Trump’s purpose is to divide the nation by race, ethnicity, and class, and exploit the efforts of foreign powers who seek the same.

    Like mine, Joe Biden’s life is flawed. Yet, Biden sets an example of legal, ethical, and moral behavior. Donald Trump’s lifelong behavior has been the polar opposite: unethical, immoral, illegal, and divisive.

    This is not a normal election. Our democracy teeters on the edge. Catholics and all Christians should speak out against the injustice and immorality of Donald Trump. I pray daily for moral leaders and Trump fails that description.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Absolutely. And thank you, Mark, for addressing the issues that this post attempts to raise.

      You ask, “How can Trump be acceptable to the Church and its members given his past and on-going misdeeds?”

      Well, he can’t be. You have to twist the universe of Catholic belief — Christian belief — into a gigantic pretzel to do something like that. It amazes me, and deeply disappoints me as it does you, to see Catholics do that…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        The church’s stance on abortion is a piece of an ethic of honoring and revering human life, which in turn is part of an overall, universal ethic that really is not all that hard to understand. It’s based on the second great commandment (and the first, but what I’m saying here is based on the second): “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And then he gave himself as a sacrifice on the cross.

        Everything that Donald Trump is about (including his current stance on abortion, to which he switched in his own self-interest) is the complete opposite of that. Everything is about what he wants, needs and requires. Which is why he could stand with John Kelly at the grave of Kelly’s son and ask, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” That actually perplexes him. And everything else he says and does underlines that attitude.

        It’s just unimaginable that any Christian would look upon him and see it as moral to support him…

    1. Barry

      Plenty of evangelical women have had abortions. I attend such a church.

      As with many things, they just don’t talk about it.

      The most aggressive anti choice arguments in evangelical churches come from men, not women. I’ve personally witnessed it many times over the decades.

        1. Barry

          As usual, our experiences are different.

          2020 survey by Gallup finds 53% of women describe themselves as pro choice.
          2020 survey by Gallup finds 43% of men describe themselves as pro choice.


          Per a 2015 Lifeway Research survey, 7 in 10 women who have had an abortion indicate they are Christian. (27% are Catholic, 26% are Protestant).

          52% of church-goers who have had an abortion have no one at church that knows they had an abortion

          23% of Christian women who have had an abortion consider themselves to be an evangelical Christian


          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yep, about half of women hold a certain view, and about half of men do, too.

            But even if you had numbers that really split the genders to the point that we could say “women think this way; men the other way” — say, 90 percent of one, 10 percent of the other — that would still sort of be something apart from what I was saying.

            Basically, the people I’ve known who were actually actively engaged in the issue on the pro-life side have been women. They’re the passionate ones, the ones you hear from. The one who always stands out in my mind was this one young woman I knew in the 1980s who was always at the forefront in the community where I used to live and work. She cut a very dramatic figure out on a picket line. Which she had a lot of experience on, having been an antiwar protester during Vietnam. This is someone I knew from church and I thought of her as a friend. But when my newspaper sponsored a debate for U.S. Senate candidates — Jim Sasser was running for re-election — I was the guy who had to speak to her and her group about not bringing their signs into the civic center. She was furious, and really got in my face. I saw what she was like out on the ramparts.

            She stands out on sheer drama, but everywhere I think back — from my mother-in-law, who was the director in Memphis of Birthright, an organization that existed to provide emotional and material support for women to have and care for their babies — to the folks who head groups like SC Citizens for Life, I tend to think of women.

            Sure, I can think of pro-life men. But they’re not the ones speaking out and creating an actual movement. They’re not the ones I run into.

            Anyway, that’s my experience…

  3. bud

    The so called “pro-life” people yammer endlessly about protecting the unborn. Yet mostly they’re just nattering nabobs with little actual stomach for doing anything to reduce abortion. If you want watch a “pro-life” person what punishment they would impose on a woman who has an abortion they generally won’t answer. Fact is abortion drugs have largely removed health care providers from the equation so any intervention to stop the practice must focus on the mothers. Hence their dilemma. Punish the women to show resolve on the issue or merely pander. Most, including Brad choose to pander. Abortions have declined over the past couple of decades largely because of birth control. Let’s continue making that the policy focus for reducing abortion.

    1. Barry

      Agree Bud. With the medication available for women to end a pregnancy, the old and tired abortion arguments are lame and quickly becoming a thing of the past.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, those drugs have been around awhile, and I haven’t noticed that happening.

        I mean, you know, if you were right, the pro-choice folks would have stopped dealing with every opening on the court like it’s the biggest crisis in the history of the world. I’m not mentioning the other side, because I don’t think I need to point out to you the other side’s reactions. What was Bud’s term? They, too, “yammer endlessly.”

        So I’m thinking your theory isn’t working…

        1. Barry

          The most common has only been around 20 years and it’s use is quickLy growing per the Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/the-availability-and-use-of-medication-abortion/

          I should rephrase: The old and tired abortion arguments will eventually become more irrelevant as more women have easier access to medication to take at home.

          The pro choice folks have reason to be concerned when the issue at hand is justices that want to take the rights of women away from them follow through with their desires to take it out of a woman’s hands and put it back in the hands of politicians.

          And no, I realize you won’t agree. I don’t really care as I will not, under any circumstances, agree with you either.

          1. bud

            Barry here’s the thing about Brad, which he yet again demonstrates here, is that all he really does is regurgitate his profound belief in wanting to protect the life of the unborn. Yet he has never, not once in at least a decade of discussing this issue does he provide any tangible policies for achieving that noble goal. On the contrary Brad actually opposes the use of birth control!! It’s downright frightening how incoherent the right is on this issue.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Really? This Brad you describe is an interesting guy. Perhaps you can provide links to where he took a position on birth control.

              I’m not saying you can’t. I just have zero memory of it, so links would help.

                1. Brad Warthen

                  Um, that wasn’t about you or me being for or against birth control. It was about whether the government can force organizations that DON’T believe in certain forms of birth control to provide it to their employees.

                  Those organizations are not me, you see. My position is that no, those other people should not be forced to provide something they don’t believe in to still other people.

                  I think I was pretty clear about that.

                  You see, the reason I’m pretty sure I haven’t taken a position on birth control is that I’m not aware of a position I want to take on it.

                  And no, you don’t have to have a position on birth control to be for protecting human life…

                2. bud

                  Ok, I’ll bite. If you believe in the Catholic doctrine that (1) gives government the power to force women to give birth in ALL pregnancies (2) prohibits the use of birth control and (3) opposes pre-emptive war then you have an obligation to vote for Donald Trump. Biden is on the wrong side of all these issues.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Not at all.

                    My boy Joe voted to go into Iraq. Trump brings that up a lot, so I guess anyone who agrees with him on that is obligated to voted for the incumbent.

                    You see how that doesn’t make sense now? Because as antiwar as you are, you take a lot of other things into consideration as well…

            2. Barry

              Brad sees one view on abortion because the Catholic Church has a stated belief about it. That’s fine for him. But as a matter of public policy, their teaching on it should be irrelevant to the general public. Their view on it couldn’t matter less to me.

              Regarding birth control, is there an issue ignored more- and more irrelevant- than the Catholic Church teaching on birth control to Catholics themselves? It would be hard to find one.

              That’s one of the MANY, MANY reasons I’m thankful I’m not Catholic.

              As I have said, I personally would encourage any woman to not have an abortion except for life/health situations.

              But I also realize it’s a condition of the heart, not one a law will ever fix.

              Politicians will never solve the issue of abortion. They never have, never will.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I’ll say one, quick thing about “Brad sees one view on abortion because the Catholic Church has a stated belief about it.”

                OK, two quick things. First, I was pro-life long before I was Catholic.

                Second, to return to the point of this post, I find myself at odds with a lot of Catholics — even though as I say, I’m the guy who’s embracing the entirety of Catholic teaching, rather than throwing everything else away for one important facet of it.

                Beyond that, we could talk for years about the pro-choice idea that one’s position on abortion is a private, religious matter that shouldn’t be “imposed” on other people in the public sphere. It isn’t, because protecting human life is a legitimate function of law…

  4. Barry

    In my personal experience, many of the people I know that vote solely on the abortion issue (which are usually men) also have a habit of blaming women for nearly everything.

    “She shouldn’t dress that way “
    “She’s just looking for attention”
    “She won’t keep her legs closed”
    “She was asking for it”
    “That’s the way a lot of women are”
    “She likes teasing men”
    “She is nothing but a slut”
    “She should be willing to give up her life”
    “Doctors don’t know anything”

    All things I’ve heard a number of times from men talking about women when the abortion issue was discussed. Rarely, if ever, is a man discussed in the equation. Surely they realize how reproduction works, right? In some cases, maybe not.

    Of course then there are more complicated issues of abortion rights that anti choicers usually don’t like discussing in great detail. Those are issues like my aunt (who was married for nearly 50 years until her husband passed) faced 30 years ago when she was confronted with an agonizing decision to terminate a pregnancy to save her health, and quite possibly her life. I’ve often thought of how awful life would have been for her 2 other children without their precious mom around for the last 30 years, especially now that my aunt is a loving, very involved, doting grandmother of 4.

      1. Barry

        I don’t really “hang around“ anyone except my wife and children.

        But I do listen (and read) to what many say when the women folk aren’t around.

  5. clark surratt

    Brad, I was hoping you would address the Supreme Court nominee in your post above. I wanted to get your opinion on whether the sub-group (or groups) under the Catholic banner that she belonged to should be grounds for questioning her qualifications for the court.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I don’t know much about them, Clark.

      As for Judge Barrett, what do I think of her? Not a lot one way or the other. She seems to me to be fairly well qualified, which is what matters. Just as I considered Merrick Garland to be qualified. I’m not a cheerleader for her, nor am I opposed to her being on the court, from what I’ve seen so far.

      But then I haven’t studied her that closely. For me, the issue isn’t her. The issue is that I don’t want this supremely politically divisive fight happening right NOW. And I’m pretty furious at the scummy behavior on the parts of McConnell and our own Lindsey Graham that has brought us to this pass.

      If McConnell hadn’t done the unforgivable thing he did in the Garland incident — and then reversed himself and then some when HIS priorities were on the line — I wouldn’t be AS upset about it. But this would still be a very unwelcome thing to be happening right now.

      I’m very unhappy about this process starting tomorrow, for a lot of reasons. One of them is this: A story in the Post this morning about how Kamala Harris will be in the spotlight, thanks to her role in the Kavanaugh hearings.

      Boy, do we not need that right now: Spectacularly divisive hearings in which Joe Biden’s running mate plays a starring role.

      Oh, the partisans in the Democratic base might clap and cheer if Sen. Harris is at the forefront of intense grilling of this woman. Yes, partisans will be energized.

      And at least as many partisans on the other side will be at least equally energized.

      And as I keep saying: Things that divide us benefit Trump. This is why he is always as divisive as possible.

      Joe is the antidote to what’s tearing our country apart. But it will be harder to motivate people to vote for that antidote if his running mate is seen as being in the forefront of the thing dividing us.

      That’s ONE way this situation is dangerous to the country. There are loads of them out there, most of which I can’t possibly anticipate at this point.

      She is going to be confirmed, barring something so far unforeseen. All I can hope for now is that the process will be as calm and quick as possible, and we can put it behind us and be thinking about other things by Election Day.

      But with only three weeks left, that is going to be tough…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, by the way: I think Nate Silver’s explanation for why Lindsey Graham refused to be tested for COVID is pretty convincing:

        Lindsey is desperate and he’s pinning everything on these hearings. I suspect he’d rather die of the disease than miss them.

        Trump is desperate, too. But while I think Graham feels he must succeed in getting her confirmed in order to save his seat, the best thing for Trump is that the hearings are confrontational and ugly, and that it all stirs up his base against the Democrats. (AND gets the Dems talking loudly about packing the court if they win.)

        The Democrats need to acknowledge they’ve lost this one, and concentrate on winning the election. Not for their sake — for the country’s…

      2. Randle

        I am hoping that Sen. Harris is smart enough not to blow up her ticket’s chances for election for a foregone confirmation. George Will has, in times past, suggested excellent questions a senator might ask of a nominee to gain a better understanding of the judge’s constitutional philosophy without engaging in the dreaded hypotheticals. There was an op-ed in the Times yesterday suggesting some more. I hope Sen. Harris and her colleagues go that route. We might all be better informed at the end.
        Another terrifying day.

  6. David Dubberly

    Brad, I’m sure you saw this, but just in case, Tim Keller made some good points on political affiliation from an orthodox Presbyterian (and wider Christian) point of view in an op-ed in the NYT two weeks ago–here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/opinion/sunday/christians-politics-belief.html. According to Keller: “Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family. One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Absolutely. Which is a big reason why I think “contemporary political alignments” are absurd.

      Of course, people who believe in our two-party system, and let it guide their thinking, find the Christian system absurd. Or, to cite Paul again, they find it a stumbling-block…

  7. Bryan Caskey

    Brad, what church is that in the photo at the bottom of your post? It’s beautiful.

    I imagine that Catholics are much like any large group in that they are not monolithic, although it is tempting to conceive of them as such.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. You see it all the time on TV and in the movies. When the doors open you see the Atlas statue across the street. And behind that is 30 Rock.

      I’ve visited it a couple of times, but I’ve only actually been to mass there once — in 2004, on the Sunday morning before the GOP convention. Even though I wasn’t at my home parish, I saw at least one other person in the congregation I recognized — Mark Shields, who I guess was also there to cover the RNC.

      I’m disappointed that you had to ask me what church that was, because I had thought I was being all clever by linking the image to further info in Wikipedia. The link didn’t work. I’ll try again

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      As for your other comment: “I imagine that Catholics are much like any large group in that they are not monolithic, although it is tempting to conceive of them as such.”

      Well, sure. However, it’s not only “tempting” but rational, when you reflect that this is a bunch of very diverse people who are supposed to be united by one, big thing: a system of beliefs…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I skimmed Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti. It encompasses a great deal, and it’s very long, but maybe that’s typical for an Encyclical, I don’t know.

        He made some very good points (he is the Pope), and the theme of the Good Samaritan is woven throughout. I think I might read some of it each morning as a devotional, and spread it out over a long time.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Good call. Personally, I think he’d do a better job of reaching people with the message if he broke encyclicals up into oped-length pieces and put them out on the Web as a daily serial…

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    One of the things I love about Twitter — well, about the whole Web, but I experience it more on Twitter than anywhere else — is the way you get to interact, however briefly, with people you like but whom you might not otherwise meet.

    When I reacted (referring to her support of Biden) to something Jeannie Gaffigan had retweeted from the pope, I got a like from her:

    … which I thought was nice…


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