By Christopher White
The Tablet National Correspondent
Of late, California Senator Diane Feinstein has come under fire for questioning judicial nominee Amy Barrett’s commitment to her Catholic faith during a senate confirmation hearing last week.
“I think in your case, professor…the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” declared Feinstein.
That same week, another story prompted Catholic furor when former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said he thought the U.S. bishops had been “terrible” in their support of DACA and “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”
These two cases – which happened in the span of one, shared 24-hour news cycle – have prompted some to wonder if anti-Catholic bias on both the political left and the right in America is on the rise.
According to Adrian Vermeule, professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, “hostility comes in different varieties.
“Feinstein’s hostility is a kind of myopia, blind to the fact that liberalism is itself a structure of dogma,” said Vermeule.
“Bannon’s, on the other hand, is a depraved cynicism. Anyone who thinks that Archbishop [Jose] Gomez [of Los Angeles], for example, acts or speaks from some sort of venal motive, urgently needs a moral recalibration,” he added.
In both the Bannon and Feinstein cases, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued stinging rebukes.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore wondered aloud whether Feinstein’s comments were intended to deter other Catholics from participating in public life.
“Were the comments of the Senators meant as a warning shot to future law students and attorneys, that they should never discuss their faith in a public forum, if they have aspirations to serve in the federal judiciary?” he asked.
James Rogers, Chief Communications officer for the bishops, labeled Bannon’s remarks as “outrageous and insulting.”
In a pointed letter to Feinstein, Father John Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, labeled the senator’s remarks as “chilling.”
“I am one in whose heart ‘dogma lives loudly,’ as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation,” said Father Jenkins.
“Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology,” he wrote.
Vermeule told The Tablet he believes that the root of this bias on both sides stems from the fact that Catholics aren’t fully embraced by either major political party.
“The basic problem, as others have pointed out, is that Catholics are politically homeless in the United States,” said Vermeule.
“The pro-life ethic as articulated by the Holy Father, for example – which requires both a stand against abortion and hospitality to the children of DACA – cuts across standard political alignments. Thus Catholics are exposed on both flanks,” he said.
In response to these recent events, CNN political analyst and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers told The Tablet, “I don’t know that Catholics have been singled out, but it’s definitely an anti-Christian thing.”
Asked to make sense of this atmosphere of heightened bias, Powers attributed it to “increased polarization and that people are operating in such different paradigms.
“If you don’t live in a world where people are making decisions based on deep religious beliefs,” said Powers. “it’s easy to caricature it based on what you see in the newspaper, versus even having a real understanding or respect for it, even if it’s not for you.”
Addressing the Feinstein controversy, Powers said, “If they were to step back and say would we be okay with someone asking a Muslim this question, I think the answer is pretty obviously no.
“The problem, beyond bigotry and intolerance, is that it’s actually unconstitutional,” she added.
“In regards to Bannon, to me he’s just theologically illiterate … you don’t need doctrine to tell you what Jesus said,” said Powers. “I just think, for him, Catholicism seems to be political.”
Meanwhile, former democratic congressman Bart Stupak told The Tablet he believes “there’s no doubt that things have become more intense.
“The Catholic Church throughout its history has not been immune from attacks, verbal and physical, and some people still believe it has too much power,” said Stupak.
Stupak, who in 2010 cast the deciding vote to pass Obamacare, told The Tablet he was under constant scrutiny because of his Catholicism.
“When I was going through the healthcare battle, people would always say, he’s doing it because he’s Catholic. Whether I’m Catholic or not was not the issue. The issue is that I had a deeply held belief,” he said.
After an executive order that guaranteed federal money would not be spent on abortion, Stupak voted in favor of the legislation – only to have some pro-life activists criticize his vote as a betrayal.
“As Catholics, we’ve always been a voice for social and economic justice,” said Stupak, “and I think it’s just ingrained in the minds of some people that when the Church speaks on something, they just want to push back.”
While Stupak admits he’s been taken aback by the comments from Bannon and Feinstein, he believes it stems from the fact that they’re being overshadowed by another dominant player: Pope Francis.
“I think it’s fear you’re seeing from people like Feinstein or Bannon because this pope is so popular,” said Stupak. “You put him in the highest position and with a megaphone bigger than Donald Trump and suddenly, what he says, people take note of it.
“This puts added pressure on people like Bannon or Feinstein who may disagree with the Catholic Church on certain things,” he added. “Now you have this pope that causes people to stop and listen.”