No Catholics Need Apply?

When President Bush nominated Bill Pryor, Alabama's attorney general, to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, he probably didn't expect U.S. Senators to post a "No Faithful Catholics Need Apply" sign on the door of the U.S. courthouse. Pryor, a friend of mine who is a dedicated Catholic, has publicly stated that Roe was wrongly decided and that abortion is always wrong, even in cases of rape and incest. These positions earned Pryor's nomination the unremitting hostility of the abortion-rights lobby. Accordingly, every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in lock-step declared opposition to Pryor, and his nomination was defeated on the floor of the Senate by a filibuster. This turn of events prompts an obvious question. Pryor's position on abortion clearly reflects Catholic teaching. And this is the offense: So, can any faithful Catholic be confirmed to the federal bench? The suggestion of anti-Catholic bias outraged some senators. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who was baptized a Catholic, called it "despicable" and "contemptible." Senator Durbin of Illinois (D), who describes himself as a "practicing Catholic," did his best Mario Cuomo imitation. He said that "many Catholics who oppose abortion personally do not believe the laws of the land should prohibit abortion for all others in extreme cases involving rape, incest, and the life and health of the mother." This bit of Catechesis was too much for Archbishop Chaput of Denver. He wrote that, while Durbin's comments would "make the abortion lobby proud . . . it should humiliate any serious Catholic." He suggested that Senator Durbin and others should pray and study Catholic doctrine "before they explain the Catholic faith to anyone." Aside from mangling Catholic doctrine, Durbin's comments still left the main question unanswered: Can faithful Catholics be confirmed to the federal bench? In our current political climate, the answer, shockingly, is "no." As Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review put it, Pryor's opponents have adopted "a viewpoint test . . . that has the effect of screening out all Catholics faithful to their church's teachings on abortion." The only way a Catholic can pass it is by "ceasing, on the decisive issue, to be Catholic -- by breaking from his church's teaching." Or, as Father Richard John Neuhaus once put it, for the liberal elites, the only "good" Catholic is a bad Catholic. What's more, as Ponnuru writes, the "viewpoint test" that excludes faithful Catholics "screens out a lot of Protestants, too." Left unchallenged, the result is an end-run around the Constitution's provision that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust." Ironically, that provision was prompted by the founders' experience with English laws that required Catholics to renounce their church's teaching before holding public office. The only way to prevent history from repeating itself is to make the political price paid for this kind of discrimination intolerably high. Congress and the public need to hear our outrage. For further reading and information: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., "Some things change, some things really don't," Denver Catholic Register, 29 July 2003. Ramesh Ponnuru, "Yes, They're Anti-Catholic," National Review Online, 1 August 2003. Charles Hurt, "Pryor's religion triggers debate," Washington Times, 24 July 2003. Hugh Hewitt, "The Catholic Test," Weekly Standard, 5 August 2003. Kay Daly, "Judge for Yourself," Wall Street Journal, 25 July 2003. "Using Religion as a Litmus," letter-to-the-editor from C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to President George H. W. Bush and chairman of the Committee for Justice, Washington Post, 2 August 2003, A19. "President Calls for Action on Judicial Nominees," statement by the president, White House Office of the Press Secretary, 1 August 2003. Mona Charen, "Deeply held beliefs,", 5 August 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 030313, "Talking Nonsense: The Senate Filibuster." "Truth in the Public Square" -- In June 2003, Charles Colson spoke to congressional members and their staff about the need to uphold truth in the public square, advocating moral truth as the basis of legislation and the need to make reasoned arguments based on natural law principles in order to make a significant influence in politics and public policy. Read this article about his speech. "Respecting Our Leaders" -- This "Worldview for Parents" page answers the question: How should we live under a government whose policies we sharply disagree with? Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate (InterVarsity, 2002). Michael Novak, On Two Wings (Encounter, 2001).


Chuck Colson


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