In an oped in the Los Angeles Times, professor Jonathan Turley reported that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin asked Roberts privately whether he'd thought about whether "imperatives of their shared Catholic faith" would conflict with his judicial responsibilities - and this prompted Republican Senator John Cornyn to call Durbin's question "troubling, if true." Cornyn recalled saying to Roberts, "I hate to see somebody going down this road because it really smacks of a religious test for public service."
This should not come as any surprise. In 2003 , when Democratic senators opposed the nomination of Judge William Pryor to the U.S. District Court for being too anti-abortion, they were accused of being anti-Catholic. "The doctrine that abortion is not justified for rape and incest is Catholic doctrine," explained Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. "It's the position of the Pope, and it's the position of the Catholic Church." Therefore, the argument went, to oppose someone for having those views was anti-Catholic, he said. The Committee for Justice and Committee for Justice Foundation then ran ads declaring "Catholics Need Not Apply." Those groups were set up by C. Boyden Gray - who has been helping Bush to craft his current confirmation strategy and was this week nominated as ambassador to the European Union.
I can understand the impulse of Democrats to run far, far away from this fight. They are particularly vulnerable to such attacks because some of them have suffered from ambivalence about and sometimes hostility to religion.
But both sides seem to be forgetting something: it is the Vatican and conservative Catholics that have been arguing that a Catholic politician's religious views should affect his or her policy positions.
In 2002, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a "doctrinal note" stating that "those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life." The paper was written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Ratzinger wrote another memorandum in xxx 2004 [Elizabeth Sams] [get date from laura] elaborating that, "there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." Therefore, Ratzinger concluded, even "deliberately" voting for a candidate because of his pro-choice views would make a Catholic voter "guilty of formal cooperation in even, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." [Elizabeth Sams] [also get corrected quote - something seems to be missing here]
In 2004, conservative American bishops cited the Vatican positions in arguing that John Kerry and other pro-choice politicians should be denied communion, and, at a minimum, were lousy Catholics. "These Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance," wrote Reverend Michael Sheridan, the bishop of Colorado Springs. Being denied communion essentially conveys that while you may be a Catholic, you're not a good one.
The Bush 2004 campaign's Catholic advisor, Deal Hudson, put it this way: Kerry's election "would mean that the leading Catholic in the country, the most prominent Catholic, is someone who ignores the most important moral teaching of the church, the one teaching that is to be followed without exception."
We've been told that Roberts is a very pious. "They are devout Catholics," said Rev. Michael McFarland, president of the College of the Holy Cross and friends of the Roberts.
Therefore, by the standards created by conservative Catholics in their campaign against Kerry, that means he must be strongly anti-abortion and do everything in his power to eliminate the practice.
Unfair, conservatives say. Roberts is fully capable of separating his personal moral views from his job, i.e. his judicial rulings. Shannen Coffin told the New York Times, "John's faith is his faith, and his approach to the law is a separate issue."
Wait a minute! That's exactly the argument that John Kerry made for how he could be a good Catholic and still have a pro-choice voting record. And, of course, he was mocked by many (including me) for that view.
Of course the hypocrisy cuts both ways. It has been the Democrats who for years argued for a separation of their "private" religious beliefs from their public policy positions. They can't very well now argue that if someone is anti-abortion because of their religious views, that should disqualify them from the court.
But it is a tad ironic that Republicans (having run the most faith-oriented campaign in memory) are now arguing that religious factors should not play a role in consideration of a public official.
No one really expects consistency from the politicians on this but I have to admit I'm more than little curious about the silence we're hearing from the conservative bishops.
Right now, Roberts' position on abortion is ambiguous. He helped write an amicus brief arguing for the overturning of Roe v. Wade but in his last confirmation hearing said that Roe was "settled" law.
Why haven't some of the bishops who criticized pro-choice politicians requested that Roberts clarify his position? If he's unwilling to state his opposition to abortion, they should suggest that Roberts ought to be denied communion if he votes the wrong way on the court.
Some conservatives may make the argument that the Vatican's statements only applied to those holding electoral, not appointed office. Elected officeholders are merely accountable to voters; judges have a higher responsibility to the Constitution itself. Perhaps. But protecting innocent life is an even higher value. Ratzinger's doctrinal note was about "Participation of Catholics in Political Life" and the essence of the argument was that people in power have a special obligation to protect the unborn.
In criticizing a pro-choice Catholic Wisconsin state senator a few years ago, Bishop Raymond Burke (then of La Crosse) wrote, "You have failed to restrict the evil of abortion when the opportunity presented itself." Should he be confirmed, the opportunity will present itself to John Roberts in a big way. He is now in a position to do more to stop abortion than any Catholic in American history. The Vatican thinks that to be a good Catholic, he'd need to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Can he be a Catholic and vote uphold Roe. Yes. Can he be a good Catholic and uphold Roe? Not according to the Catholic Church.