WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia describes himself as a practicing Catholic who was raised in a devout household that never missed Sunday Mass. Mainstream media reports present him as a serious Catholic and often mention that he went on a missionary trip to Honduras as a young man almost 40 years ago.
Despite that image, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee has failed to reflect pro-life or basic Catholic views in his voting record. As an elected official, he has affirmed legalized abortion and defended Roe v. Wade. He has also publicly espoused other positions clearly at odds with the Church’s teachings on faith and morals, including controversial campaign-trail remarks indicating the Church will redefine marriage to include same-sex unions.
Before Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress in September 2015, Kaine voted against bringing a 20-week abortion ban to the Senate floor, explaining that “nothing in my Catholic faith suggests that I should support legislation that violates the Constitution” even though the Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is an intrinsic evil.
That same month, Kaine issued a statement announcing his support for women being ordained Catholic priests — another position diametrically at odds with the teaching of the faith he claims.
“There is nothing this Pope could do that would improve the world as much as putting the Church on a path to ordain women,” Kaine said.
Then, while attending the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner, Kaine addressed a crowd of homosexual-rights activists and their allies and declared that he believes the Catholic Church will one day endorse same-sex “marriage.”
“I think it’s going to change because my Church also teaches me about a creator who, in the first chapter of Genesis, surveyed the entire world, including mankind, and said, ‘It is very good,’” Kaine said Sept. 10, according to The Associated Press.
Kaine also cited Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment, a quote often taken out of context, and said, “I want to add: Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.”
Corrected by Bishops
Kaine’s statements elicited strong rebukes from several bishops who affirmed the Church’s teaching that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who earlier this year criticized Kaine on Facebook for his stances on same-sex “marriage,” adoption by same-sex couples, abortion and the ordination of women, told the Register that he hopes Kaine knows more about governing than he does about theology.
“I think he has a very superficial and incomplete reading of the sections of Genesis that he’s referring to,” Bishop Tobin said. “It’s important to emphasize that we refer to the teachings of the Church, and that’s certainly true, but the teachings of the Church are not some arbitrary subjective formulation. The teachings of the Church are based on the revealed word of God. When it comes to something essential like marriage, we are not free to change our teachings because we didn’t make them up. They came to us from God.”
Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond, Virginia, said in a Sept. 13 statement, “More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, and despite recent statements from the campaign trail, the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year-old teaching to the truth about what constitutes marriage remains unchanged and resolute.”
Kaine is a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in the Diocese of Richmond.
In a Sept. 14 joint statement through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, reaffirmed the Church’s authoritative teachings on marriage “as it comes to us from God as the author of creation and of revelation.”
Said the bishops, “The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage as exclusively the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman cannot change.” They also said an attempt “to redefine the essential meaning of marriage is acting against the Creator. It cannot be morally justified.”
Others, meanwhile, criticized the Virginia senator for cherry-picking Scripture to support the Democratic Party platform’s embrace of the homosexual-rights movement.
“I was surprised that someone as apparently intelligent as Sen. Kaine and someone who is upfront in saying he is a practicing Catholic could have such poor catechesis or formation to say something like that, because it reflects a lack of understanding, on a number of levels, of how the Church views marriage,” said John Grabowski, an associate professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America.
Grabowski told the Register that Kaine’s statements reflect the idea that the Church’s teaching on marriage is a policy that can be changed at any time.
Said Grabowski, “The Church’s understanding is that the author of marriage is God — not the Church, not the state — so the Church has no authority to change what we believe marriage to be and what marriage is, which is clear from the opening chapters of Genesis, a covenant between a man and a woman.”
Mark Johnson, a theology professor at Marquette University, also told the Register that Kaine’s reasoning that the Church will eventually approve of same-sex “marriage” is “woefully incomplete.”
“If you’re going to quote Genesis, then don’t be afraid to read Genesis 2, which has the second account of the creation of Adam and Eve and an explanation of the fact that Adam is oriented toward Eve and Eve is oriented toward Adam,” said Johnson, who added that selectively quoting Scripture is not a good mode of argument.
James Keating, a theology and humanities professor at Providence College, regretted that Catholic politicians on the left and right rarely transcend their parties’ political ideologies.
Said Keating, “It’s disappointing that, given so many years after the Second Vatican Council, you simply don’t find a Catholic politician rising above partisanship. That’s a shame.”
Pro-Abortion Code Words
Since becoming Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Kaine has soft-pedaled his position on abortion. He has told Clinton that he will support her position to overturn the Hyde Amendment, an annual provision that prohibits federal dollars from funding most abortions. Kaine previously supported the Hyde Amendment.
Using code words often used to refer to abortion, Kaine reiterated his defense of legal abortion on Sept. 18, when he appeared on Meet the Press and said: “Do you believe women should be able to make their own health-care decisions, or don’t you? Millennials do; Hillary Clinton and I do; Donald Trump doesn’t.”
In mid-September, Kaine told National Public Radio (NPR) that Catholicism is “about the way I live and the rules that I follow.” However, he added: “But I don’t think my job as a public official is to make everybody else follow the Catholic Church’s teaching, whatever their religious background or lack of a religious background.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes abortion as gravely contrary to the moral law and says “the inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority” (2273). Abortion is an attack on human life and dignity, according to Catholic social teaching.
Marquette professor Johnson said the political debate over abortion is not a matter of disagreeing over how much money to allocate to social-welfare programs, but “a question of what is ostensibly the single most important civil-rights abuse that this country has ever been involved in.”
Radical Shifts in Public Policy
Just as Clinton and President Barack Obama changed their positions on same-sex “marriage” as court rulings and sympathetic media coverage shifted public opinion, Kaine has evolved to embrace so-called “marriage equality.”
In 2004, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex “marriage” in the Bay State, Kaine, then the lieutenant governor of Virginia, blasted the decision and said, “Marriage between a man and a woman is the building block of the family and a keystone of our civil society.” He added: “I cannot agree with a court decision suddenly declaring that marriage must now be redefined to include unions between people of the same gender.”
During his 2005 gubernatorial race in Virginia, Kaine said he opposed same-sex “marriage” and described himself as “conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life.” By 2011, he announced his support for “civil benefits” for same-sex couples. In 2013, Kaine said he favored same-sex “marriage.”
“It seems to me that these two things alone [abortion and same-sex marriage] answer the question of whether or not this is an orthodox Catholic,” said Deal Hudson, editor and publisher of The Christian Review, who served as director of Catholic outreach for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
Kaine, Hudson said, is the kind of “assimilated Catholic” who can be accepted by the national mainstream media, which Hudson said would not be as accommodating if Kaine were overtly pro-life.
“He should be judged by his positions, his expressed beliefs on his Catholic faith, and he has expressed — clearly — beliefs contrary to the faith,” Hudson said. “And as vice president, he would be in a position to influence future legislation. That’s the thing we should be focused on.”
‘Social Justice’ Formation
In contrast, most secular media reports present a picture of Kaine as a serious and thoughtful Catholic who was formed by the Jesuit priests who ran an all-boys Catholic high school he attended in Kansas City. Kaine still attends a Catholic parish in a predominantly black neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. The church’s pastor told NPR that Kaine is a choir member and a devout Catholic focused on social-justice issues.
Kaine told C-SPAN in June that his Catholic faith and Jesuit teachers helped him to have an outlook on life where he does everything “for spiritual reasons.”
Said Kaine, “I’m always thinking about the momentary reality, but also how it connects with bigger matters of what’s important in life.”
Before entering Harvard Law School, Kaine, at age 22, took a year off in 1980 to volunteer at a Jesuit vocational school in Honduras, where he ran a program teaching carpentry and welding. He told The Daily Press in Virginia last year that the Honduras missionary trip still inspires him as a lawmaker to expand career and technical educational opportunities.
Various media reports say Kaine, during his time in Honduras, embraced liberation theology, a movement centered on the poor that Church leaders, including Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, said blended Marxist principles with Catholic social teaching in some cases. Kaine visited Honduras during a time of significant social and political unrest in Latin America. Forms of liberation theology that conflate Christianity with Marxism have been strongly condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which stated in the 1984 document “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation” that “atheism and the denial of the human person, his liberty and rights, are at the core of Marxist theory.”
While in Latin America, The New York Times reported, Kaine met with Jesuit Father Jon Sobrino, a Spanish theologian and author of Jesus the Liberator, which was one of two books the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith criticized in 2006 for containing “notable discrepancies with the faith of the Church.”
Kaine also reportedly traveled to Nicaragua to meet Jesuit Father James Carney, an American priest, who had been exiled from Honduras in 1979 for taking a radical view of liberation theology that supported armed uprisings. Father Carney was later part of a Communist-sponsored armed incursion into Nicaragua that reportedly ended with him being captured or killed.
Media reports say Kaine actually spent most of his time with pragmatic U.S. Jesuit priests not interested in liberation theology. Still, his time in Latin America led Ken Blackwell, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, to write that Kaine’s political formation “wasn’t pro-American or pro-Catholic; it was pro-Soviet.”
Bishop Tobin of Providence said that there is a grave risk of scandal and confusion when a high-profile Catholic like Kaine acts and speaks out against Church teachings.
“It’s always very disappointing, even discouraging, when someone of that prominence, a Catholic, behaves in a way that shows he doesn’t really understand the teachings of the Church; or, perhaps if he does understand them, he waters them down for the sake of political advantage.”
Said the bishop, “I think the evidence is pretty clear that Tim Kaine’s position on a number of these issues has changed — he would say evolved — as he has climbed the ladder of political prestige.”
Kaine is often referred to as a “Pope Francis” Catholic, but Bishop Tobin said Pope Francis has disavowed the stances that Kaine has taken on issues such as same-sex “marriage,” homosexual adoption and abortion.
“He’s not a Pope Francis Catholic,” Bishop Tobin said. “He’s a Joe Biden Catholic, and that’s not a good thing.”
Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.