National Catholic Register


Sotomayor's Catholicism

BY Tom Hoopes

| Posted 5/27/09 at 9:30 AM


Steven Waldman at Beliefnet reports: “Another White House official elaborated slightly, ‘Judge Sotomayor was raised as a Catholic and attends church for family celebrations and other important events.’”

What will her presence as the sixth Catholic (albeit a lapsed one) mean to the court?

Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today‘s Faith & Reason Blog has compiled a rundown of quotes on the Catholicism of Obama Supreme Court Pick Sonia Sotomayor.

William Donohue of the Catholic League is taking no position “at this stage,” reports Grossman. However, he astutely points out:

Let’s face it: Left-wingers would gladly accept nine Supreme Court Catholics if they were reliably liberal before they would ever accept a diverse court that was reliably conservative. Ancestry, anatomy and religious affiliation have always been oversold: What trumps everything is ideology.

As if to confirm Bill Donohue’s instincts, Grossman next presents the words of a law professor at the University of Notre Dame — “the most recent epicenter of Catholic-enough battles.”

Cathleen Kaveny tells the Chicago Tribune The Seeker blog that she expects Sotomayor will be not so much an active Roman Catholic as an activist “American Catholic.”

My guess is she’s very much operating in accordance with the commitments of the Catholic social justice tradition which is emphasizing … inclusion, solidarity, justice to those least among us. It’s a strand of American Catholic teaching that is somewhat distinct from other Catholic teaching but not incompatible. People emphasize different aspects. ‘Different gifts from the same spirit,’ to quote St. Paul.

UPDATE: Professor Kaveny, it should be noted, is no Doug Kmiec. She is on record as saying that Roe v. Wade is a bad decision. She was an early member of the pro-life group at Princeton. The post initially unfairly lumped her in with those who speak about solidarity and justice to the least among us but don’t include the unborn. And who speak of “social justice” but have no problem with predatory abortion businesses profiting off pregnant women’s pain.

But as soon as Grossman has said Sotomayor’s faith counts, she finds comfort in Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointing out that faith doesn’t count, in words she finds in First Things:

There is no such thing as a ‘Catholic judge.’ The bottom line is that the Catholic faith seems to me to have little effect on my work as a judge ... Just as there is no ‘Catholic’ way to cook a hamburger, I am hard pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not Catholic.

She notes that The Boston Globe‘s Michael Paulson saw the Catholic reference in Obama’s introduction of Sotomayor.

Obama said:

When Sonia was nine, her father passed away. And her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to provide for Sonia and her brother ... But Sonia’s mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman out of the belief that with a good education here in America all things are possible.

Which, we would point out, is an excellent case for school choice ...