Public Catholicism

THE Church, Judge Roberts & The Common Good

Catholics are everywhere. John Roberts is likely to become the first Catholic Chief Justice of the Supreme Court since the Civil War, bringing the Court’s denominational lineup to four Catholics, two Protestants, two Jews, and a vacancy. The president’s team to win endorsement of the Roberts nomination is headed by Ed Gillespie, Catholic-vote hunter for the GOP in the last election, and enthusiastic Senate backers include a self-identified pillar of Catholic orthodoxy, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. When the fight gets going, we will see daily comments by Democratic Senators Kerry and Kennedy, Leahy, Biden, and Durbin, Catholics all. A few years ago a candidate’s religion would most likely not have come up in the confirmation process. Now we wonder what form “Catholic questions” will take.

Last year, in debate about the confirmation of a conservative Catholic for the Court of Appeals, Republican Senators accused Richard Durbin (Ill.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.) of being anti-Catholic when they questioned the nominee’s views on abortion. When Durbin in an early interview asked Roberts a question about their shared faith, another firestorm broke out. The intensity arises from the last election cycle, when the Vatican and some media-savvy bishops made the question of abortion a “litmus test” for Catholics in public life. Some bishops even threatened to withhold Communion from Catholic politicians who did not toe the line...

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About the Author

David O'Brien is University Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton.