We are getting closer and loser to an official mainstream-press language to describe the religious background of Judge Sonia Sotomayor and, to no one's surprise, the issue that continues to drive this slow process of journalistic revelation is abortion. At this point, however, no one wants to get into the confusing and controversial work of determining the identities of the Catholic judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, as opposed to the "Catholic" judges. After all, this would require listing the Catholic judges who support America's current regime of abortion laws and then listing the Catholic judges who want to see abortion severely restricted or banned. That would raise doctrinal questions.
You see, it's all about judicial mathematics. Here is a typical CNN reference:
Sotomayor was raised Catholic. If she is confirmed, six out of the nine justices on the high court will be from the faith. Catholics make up about 25 percent of the U.S. population. Of the 110 people who have served on the Supreme Court, 11 have been Catholic. Five of those justices -- Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts -- are currently on the court.
Notice the crucial words "raised" and "from." Is someone who is "from" the Catholic Church a Catholic, as opposed to someone who is "in" the Catholic Church? Now that I think of it, which justices in the current gang of five are "from" the Catholic faith? Anyone care to name names?
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, we have the following language in a crucial news report in which the White House urgently assured leaders on the cultural left that Sotomayor is not a Justice David Souter in reverse. In other words, Democrats don't make mistakes.
But it's hard to stress that the nominee is a complex, nuanced moderate on abortion while also stressing that she is totally in line with the White House on its uncompromising support for abortion rights at all points during a pregnancy. Thus, we have this:
Facing concerns about the issue from supporters rather than detractors, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama did not ask Sotomayor specifically about abortion rights during their interview. But Gibbs indicated that the White House is nonetheless sure she agrees with the constitutional underpinnings of Roe v. Wade, which 36 years ago provided abortion rights nationwide.
And then we have this:
The abortion issue is likely to arise in Sotomayor's confirmation hearings in July, in part because of her background as a Catholic. But she is unlikely to offer any more clarity than have previous nominees. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., for instance, ducked the question during his 2005 hearings by saying that Roe is "settled as a precedent of the court."
And finally this, linked to Sotomayor rulings in the past:
... (In) cases involving deportation to China, she has written about the country's sterilization and forced abortion standards. In one case, she talked about how husbands would be affected: "The termination of a wanted pregnancy under a coercive population control program can only be devastating to any couple, akin, no doubt, to the killing of a child."
The question, in other words, is whether Sotomayor is a practicing Catholic or a person of Catholic cultural background who is, in effect, someone who is akin to being a Catholic.
Stay tuned. At some point, some reporter is going to dare to ask this question to people who might know.