Well, there was no lack of faith talk during President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday of his Supreme Court justice pick, and all of it was perfectly normal.
We heard the name of the Catholic parish nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends and the fact that he coaches a Catholic Youth Organization basketball team. We heard a little bit about his inspirational Georgetown educational ties.
The bottom line: I wondered why the nominee was so upfront about his faith. Some media outlets picked this up, but a lot did not.
Mother Jones got the same impression I did in an intriguing piece about the nominee's subliminal efforts to appeal to the social justice crowd.
Kavanaugh’s speech diverged from his predecessors in one key aspect: extensive reference to his Catholic faith, including a special shout-out to one of Washington, DC’s most beloved religious leaders, Monsignor John Enzler.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who attended the same Jesuit high school as Kavanaugh, vaguely thanked “my family, my friends and my faith” but failed to mention his Catholic upbringing when he accepted Trump’s nomination last year. Neither did Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or Justice Clarence Thomas in their first remarks as nominees. Not even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a proudly devout Catholic who counted a priest among his sons, mentioned religion during his swearing-in ceremony.
Kavanaugh brought up Catholicism at several points in his 857-word speech, but reserved special attention for John Enzler, known as “Father John,” a legend in DC Catholic circles.
America Magazine, with its Jesuit ties, offered the best summary of the nominee’s Catholic bonafides:
During his remarks, Mr. Kavanaugh highlighted his Catholic faith and Jesuit connections.
“The motto of my Jesuit high school was ‘men for others,’” Mr. Kavanaugh said, referencing Georgetown Preparatory School, from which he graduated in 1983. “I have tried to live that creed.”
(The motto “Men for Others” was popularized in a 1973 speech to alumni of Jesuit schools by Pedro Arrupe, S.J., who was then the superior general of the Jesuits. Today, many Jesuit schools use the phrase “Men and Women for Others” or “People for Others,” though Georgetown Prep educates just young men.)
With his mentions of the Jesuits, was Kavanaugh trying to establish a connection to the popular Pope Francis, the first Jesuit to have that job? Was he doing everything he could to buy favor with Catholic progressives?
Mr. Kavanaugh also thanked the head of D.C. Catholic Charities, Monsignor John Enzler, who was in the audience.
“I am part of the vibrant Catholic community in the DC area. The members of that community disagree about many things but we are united by a commitment to serve,” Mr. Kavanaugh said. “Father John Enzler is here. Forty years ago I was an altar boy for Father John. These days I help him serve meals to the homeless at Catholic Charities.”
Expect lots of explorations by journalists into the issues linked to his reference that Beltway Catholics "disagree about many things," while being united by service -- as opposed to doctrine.
Another good piece out there was USA Today’s summation where reporter Richard Wolf did his homework:
Scott McCaleb has been a friend since he and Kavanaugh attended rival Jesuit high schools in 1980. (Kavanaugh was two years ahead of Gorsuch at Georgetown Preparatory School.) McCaleb said the service-oriented education they received has defined the judge's life. He has mentored underprivileged children, served meals to the homeless and coached his daughters' Catholic Youth Organization basketball teams.
“He really lives the Jesuit mantra of being a man for others," McCaleb said. "He does it in so many ways.”
In his recent commencement address at Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, Kavanaugh urged graduates to do the same.
"Being a graduate of this law school means you will have many advantages, but you also have responsibilities: serve meals to the homeless, give clothing to the poor, and use your legal training to help those who need legal help," he said. "As Pope Francis says, ‘Faith and values mean not just belief and going to Mass, but action.'"
USA Today also had an opinion piece suggesting that it is highly likely Kavanaugh will face "anti-Catholic bigotry."
The Washington Post’s faith coverage focused, as could have been predicted, on the reactions of evangelical Protestants. There was an interesting mix here of old-guard leaders and some newcomers.
For millions of evangelical Christians, President Trump’s announcement Monday night was the vision they held in their heads as they stepped into the polling booth almost two years ago: a Republican president, filling the Supreme Court with more conservative justices who might drastically curtail access to legal abortion and advance other conservative Christian priorities.
As Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his second nominee to the court in his 18-month term, these conservative Christians saw much of their dream realized.
“It’s a generational decision,” exulted Jack Graham, a Texas pastor who is on Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board. “It’s a decision that impacts not only today, not only us, but our children -- our grandchildren, potentially.”
The lack of any other conservative religious traditions: Orthodox Jews, Eastern Orthodox, conservative Catholics, seems a bit odd, but it's obvious the writer thinks the evangelical Protestants are the only meaningful game in Trump town, politically speaking.
However, do check out Michael Rosenwald's piece on Kavanaugh's perceived conflict between canon and constitutional law. I never knew that former Justice William J. Brennan, also a Catholic, privately opposed abortion. However, he was one of the architects of Roe v. Wade. Will Kavanaugh make the same decision? Note the writer didn't explain that many perceive the famous 1973 decision as a travesty of constitutional law.
Surprisingly, Atlantic writer Emma Green, who specializes in religion and politics, didn’t dwell on Kavanaugh’s faith at all. Neither did the New York Times.
But this is only the first day. Lots more to come.