Barrett hearings show threat of anti-Catholic bigotry – Fort Worth bishop

CNA Staff, Oct 16, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth penned an op-ed Thursday decrying the “anti-Catholic bigotry” that he says has surfaced since Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court last month.

“Catholic theology is not a threat to America; the ideology of anti-Catholic bigotry is,” Bishop Olson asserted in the op-ed, published Oct. 15 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Faithful Catholics help many and harm no one; anti-Catholic bigots harm everyone. It is unimaginable that the senators’ harassment be applied to any other religious group. Why is this tolerated? When will it end?”

The Senate is considering Barrett, a federal judge and Catholic mother of seven, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month. 

Some Senate Republicans, including Josh Hawley (R-MO), on Monday decried what they saw as unseemly attacks on Barrett’s religious beliefs by Democrats and members of the media.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the committee, warned during the hearing that “women could lose access to preventative services and critical maternity care, including cancer screenings and well-woman visits” if Barrett were part of a future court majority in striking down the ACA’s mandate.

Other senators, including Chris Coons (D-Del.), said that previous Supreme Court rulings in favor of contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage could be at risk with Barrett’s confirmation.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said that a “right to safe and legal abortion is at stake.”

Barrett previously came to national attention during her 2017 Senate confirmation hearings after she was nominated by the president for the U.S. Court of Appeals. During that process, Feinstein stated that “the dogma lives loudly” within Barrett and “that’s a concern.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) then grilled Barrett over her use of the term “orthodox Catholic” in an article she had written.

Several media outlets have focused on Barrett’s membership of People of Praise, a charismatic ecumenical community founded in South Bend in 1971. News reports have variously referred to the group as “secretive” and “cult-like” while criticizing the group’s use of the word “handmaid,” a biblical term.

Barrett, in her opening remarks, said that she believed “Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written.” She also said that policy decisions should not be left to the Court.

Olson said Catholics in public life too often consider their faith to be part only of the private domain, “as if Catholic identity and heritage have nothing to contribute publicly.”

This can come in the form of Catholics who are unwilling to speak in public the truth about the harms of contraception and abortion, he said.

“Faithful Catholics do not ask for any special privileges, but we insist that how we live and what we value and prioritize are already provided a secured space by the Constitution,” he reflected.

Bishop Olson wrote that John F. Kennedy’s “breakthrough as a Catholic candidate” in 1960 “came at a terrible cost, one not made fully evident until 1984, when New York Gov. Mario Cuomo spoke at the University of Notre Dame and separated faith from right reason in the political life of a Catholic public servant.”

Cuomo “relegated religious identity exclusively to the private domain, as if Catholic identity and heritage have nothing to contribute publicly,” the bishop stated.

“Consequently, someone who is more openly Catholic is often expected to leave the public square or be barred from it entirely.”

He reflected that “many public Catholics have become compliant with the media-driven and socially dominant religion of secular individualism and its demand that law and jurisprudence substitute emotivism for right reason and that medicine serve desires rather than human dignity.”

“Faithful Catholics must be neither silent nor silenced. Our moral tradition, thoroughly humane and humanizing, is available to any person of ordinary intelligence and good will,” he said.

“The Catholic commitment to right reason, drawing upon a perennial tradition of natural law, and an abiding commitment to real science — these are the things that animate bigots against faithful Catholics. Reason intrudes upon the illusions that secular ideology sells and imposes.”

Olson asserted that people raising objections to Barrett’s Catholic faith are “distorting what Catholics such as Judge Amy Coney Barrett can and should offer to America.”

“We are not asking the state to endorse our Catholic faith; we as Catholics and Americans are insisting that what we can prove by reason not be dismissed or stifled. Orthodox Catholics live that moral tradition and offer it to others. We cannot do otherwise,” he concluded.

Olson is not the first Catholic bishop to speak out against a perceived anti-Catholic bigotry in the rhetoric surrounding Barrett’s nomination.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, emeritus Archbishop of Philadelphia, wrote in a Sept. 29 essay that “positioning dissenting Catholics as ‘mainstream Americans’ and believing Catholics as ‘extremists’” is now a “common and thoroughly dishonest culture war technique,” and “a particular affront to the free exercise of religion.”

He said that the present “hostility toward those who support Catholic teaching” should not only concern Catholics in the United States, but also “anyone who values the First Amendment.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, the new leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops on religious liberty, recently warned of a “soft despotism” of religious intolerance in the U.S. Hostility to public Catholicism is “treating us as somehow less worthy of full participation in the benefits of American life,” he said.

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