Capital punishment, abortion and a Catholic politician

The Washington Post's front page today featured a long profile focused on the faith and religious underpinnings of former Virginia Gov. — and current U.S. Senate candidate — Tim Kaine. The top of the 2,700-word story:

It’s not unusual, on an election-year Sunday, to find a white candidate in a black church. But Tim Kaine, swaying this month to the gospel groove at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in a poor Richmond neighborhood, wasn’t on the campaign trail. He was taking a break from it at his home parish.

“How you doing, brother?” said Peter Thompson, 53, a lean black man in a green fedora, hugging the round-faced Kaine on the church steps.

The part-time Pizza Hut cook and the former governor have known each other since Kaine joined the church almost three decades ago. “We helped start the Men’s Group together,” Thompson said.

Kaine, 54, and his wife, Anne Holton, made their way into the cool bright sanctuary, stopped by friends every few feet to swap Sunday greetings and family news. The Kaines were married in 1984 at St. E’s altar. All three of their children were baptized at its font.

For Kaine, religion saturates both life and politics. A former missionary in rural Honduras, he talks frequently of how Catholicism informs his views on race and poverty and his deep embrace of cultural diversity, which he hails as “God’s rich tapestry.”

It's a meaty, fascinating story.

The Post provides a gripping, emotional account of the Democratic candidate's attempts to balance his personal religious convictions against the death penalty and abortion with political pragmatism and the will of the people.

Except that the story fails to include the voices of any conservative Catholic theologians who might critique the following:

Instead Kaine took his feelings straight to voters, casting his opposition to both capital punishment and abortion as strict articles of Catholic faith. But he emphatically pledged that he would uphold laws permitting both.

Kaine’s pitch neutralized both issues, and made him a hero to Democrats fighting to win back Bible voters. But his victory also set him up with a case of moral self-doubt that haunts him still.

Abortion was easier. Kaine has straddled the issue, as many Democrats do, by abhorring abortion but leaving the decision up to each woman. Unlike capital punishment, abortion cases don’t routinely land on a governor’s desk.

The Post does not make clear that the church hierarchy views the death penalty differently than, say, abortion or euthanasia. As I understand it, one’s position on capital punishment is more of a matter of individual conscience, while a Catholic politician at odds with the church on abortion could be denied Holy Communion. Mollie did an exceptional job of explaining this in a 2009 post.

So what do church leaders say about Kaine's approach on these life issues?

Just asking.

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