Bannon and Feinstein remind us that anti-Catholic bigotry is a bipartisan problem

(Images: Catholic News Service, Flickr, iStock)

By now most readers have heard about Steve Bannon’s disgusting comments on DACA. The bishops’ support for DACA, Bannon argues, can only stem from their crass self-interest:

The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? Because unable to really—to come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s—it’s obvious on the face of it. They have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.

To be fair to Mr. Bannon, such self-interest is precisely what drives immigration debates in Washington: Both political parties have benefited from avoiding meaningful solutions to immigration. So it is little wonder Bannon cannot imagine the bishops playing any other kind of game.

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But given that Steve Bannon is Catholic, it is sad that the church has not challenged him to see a vision of something better. I actually agree with Mr. Bannon: The church has not “come to grips” with many of its problems, including its poor catechesis of Catholics. But speaking out for the dignity of all persons is not one of those problems.

Steve Bannon’s screed shows the difficulty of being Catholic and Republican.

Steve Bannon’s screed shows the difficulty of being Catholic and Republican: The Gospel call to serve the poor is not even on his radar. You can argue that Mr. Bannon does not represent the G.O.P., and there is no confusing him with John McCain or George W. Bush. But his vitriol arises from some of the worst tendencies of the Republican Party, especially the newly ascendant parts. That is a problem for Catholics, particularly when we see care for the poor and the marginalized caught in the crosshairs.

Thank goodness Catholics have another party.

Oh, about that.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the Democratic senator’s taste:

Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.

This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case, arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.

As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and himself Catholic, asked Ms. Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?

When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?

Again, you can argue that these senators’ views do not represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic Party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. That is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ and want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.

You cannot make this stuff up. Completely unplanned, two figures as different as Steve Bannon and Dianne Feinstein—a Trump-supporting Breitbart writer and a progressive California hero—inadvertently teamed up to remind Catholics that anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well in both political parties.

Catholics often argue about which party better represents the Gospel. Have that argument if you like, but do not forget the bigger picture: Neither party can be the home of the Catholic voter. You might vote with a party, you might support parts of its platform, you might donate money and time to it, but you are never really home there. It can never be where you belong, where you discover who you are, what you most deeply care about and what you should do with your gifts for the world.

Neither party can be the home of the Catholic voter.

If you want to object and say that one party is better than the other for Catholics, you are missing the point. Even if one party were better, the fact remains that neither party is a good source of values and teachings for Catholics engaged in politics. If you try to be selective about the values and policy preferences you hold within the party, you will find no encouragement or guidance from the party itself. And if you find yourself more invested in partisan politics than in the Gospel, you will not bother to make such distinctions anyway.

•••

What bothers me the most about the comments from Mr. Bannon and Senator Feinstein is that I fear that many Catholics are not so different from them. I fear that many of us disregard church teachings because we fundamentally do not believe that the Gospel is calling us to fight for the kingdom. I fear that many of us do not really think our faith should have a public voice because we fundamentally do not believe that the truth will set us and others free.

Instead, we preach our own political beliefs. Sure, we invoke the Gospel when it conveniently aligns with what we already believe, when we can use the Gospel as a weapon against our enemies. But what if the Gospel is challenging us, too? Is that what we are running away from?

This week we marked the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and I could have written something about the tragic events of that day. But Sept. 11 is actually the perfect time to meditate on this anti-Catholic bigotry. This anniversary reminds us, albeit in a most unwelcome way, that life and death are bigger than politics. But Mr. Bannon and Ms. Feinstein are asking us to sacrifice what we hold most dear for the sake of political expediency.

We can fall into their trap by joining in the ideological warfare that plagues our society, by refusing to recognize the humanity of others. Or we might surrender to our frustrated apathy with politics, vaguely accepting that our private selves will never find meaningful public expression.

But maybe, as we remember the many lives lost on Sept. 11, we can ask what life is and what makes it worth living. Rather than be discouraged or embittered by hate and violence, we can remember what we hold dear and feel gratitude for all the people who give us hope that goodness is still possible in the world. Because it is.

A version of this article was originally published in The Jesuit Post.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Bannon
2 months 1 week ago

Sorry Bill....Bannon was using logic not bias. The Bishops as a whole had no great zeal to protect Catholic young people from sexual predators amongst the clergy for decades....until the Globe and the NY Times went jurassic on the issue in 2002...which forced the Bishops to meet in the South West on the issue.
Ergo Bannon deduced that love of young people like the dreamers is not the heart and soul of the Bishops' record..
ergo they might have another motive for loving that millions of potential Catholics some paying many dollars to coyotes...have no love for our
legal process of entry.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

William - it is not helpful to respond to one false charge of anti-Catholicism with another false anti-Catholic charge. There is no evidence the Bishops were particularly worse than other institutions in dealing with child sex abuse, when one studies the statistics. The Sandusky case at Penn State and multiple cases in public schools bear this out. The media is also culpable. Just today, Seattle Mayor Murray, a self-described progressive Democrat that was widely acclaimed for opposing Trump only a few months ago, has now resigned after repeated accusations of child sex abuse over several years. Yet, the Seattle Times admitted that they "chose not to publish the 2008 allegations" - at a time when Murray was promoting same-sex marriage and the normalization of gay sex. There is little doubt in my mind that if Murray had been a Catholic priest, the paper would have made it a major story long ago.

William Bannon
2 months 1 week ago

Criticism...you identify with anti Catholicism. Rubbish. Read your own post...." no evidence the Bishops were particularly worse than other institutions in dealing with child sex abuse."
You hold the Bishops to a low bar of general non excellence then....even though they unlike many in society have access to the sacrament that strenghtens them in Christ who overturned the tables of the money changers within seconds of seeing their offense...not after five decades. The Bishops are actually supposed to have a much better record than the average American institution...not the same record as the average American
institution. And Bishops can fire molesters from the priesthood but instead often moved them to a new parish while not notifying the new parents of their dangerous proclivities. Why?
Because vocations were low? That would support Steve Bannon's accusation of utilitarian motives for wanting bodies...but back then in that previous case. Paul in the epistle involving the man caught in incest said to cast the man out of the community because a little leaven
affects the whole loaf.

Robert Klahn
2 months 1 week ago

You were right in the second post, but drew unsupported conclusions in the first post. Bannon cannot be said to have done something just because others may draw your conclusion. Bannon has such a deep degree of deception in his history that the most logical conclusion was, it was convenient for him to make that accusation.

Ascribing deep thought to Bannon is your first mistake.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

Fr. McCormick - I believe you have made an amazingly false equivalency, in at least 3 ways.
1. Both Bannon and Trump hardly represent standard Republican party positions on immigration, free trade or other issues. the right comparison would be with Senator Rubio or Speaker Ryan, both of who are fully accepted by a broad swath of Republicans and have been Republicans long before Bannon and Trump, who are not beholden to any party (Trump was a Democrat a few years ago).
2. Issues like immigration and border management or responses to climate change are highly complex and do not have a specific Catholic doctrinal response. While it is absolutely part of our faith to welcome the stranger and aid the refugee (especially widows and orphans), that does not translate into an open border policy no more than an open door policy in every home in the country. Similarly, while environmental stewardship & sustainability are part of Catholic doctrines, the balancing of employment with different measures requires a complex response. However, issues like abortion and adultery (including gay marriage) are wrong every time and have no ambiguity.
3. Even if Bannon were representing one stream of Republican, he never hinted he would block Catholics from political office, whereas the mainstream Democrats (including self-identifying pro-abortion Catholic Democrats), including Feinstein, Durban, Cuomo, Obama and Bernie Sanders (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/matthew-archbold/bernie-sanders-says-chr…) want to block orthodox Catholics from holding any position of power, in government or business.

I do not know if you previously wrote about the anti-Catholicism inherent in the Democratic party, of which there have now been multiple examples. If you only decided to get excited about this because of Steve Bannon, that speaks volumes on where your own bias lies.

Robert Klahn
2 months ago

As far as important issues the only thing I see the Catholic church and the Democratic party disagree on involves sex.

On all other things of significance I see the Democratic party as the most closely aligned with the Catholic Church.

Three of the Catholics on the Supreme court were appointed by Clinton and Obama. Was there anti-Catholicism there?

rose-ellen caminer
2 months 1 week ago

We Christians have had it easy here in the US for so long that we actually take some pushback against our Christian values by the Democrats s and Republicans as serious bias? So what if the secular culture including the government has a bias against our counter cultural catholic beliefs? Of course they do and should as we don't live in a theocracy.
But Christian triumphalism has pervaded our society for so long [imo] that it has led to the conflating of religion[Christianity ] with nationalism[Americanism]. Some push back to this status quo is welcome; God is God and Caesar is Caesar and it is as you said; when this complacent center no longer holds we are compelled to confront our own professed core values, identity and faith beliefs. This clash between Caesar and the Church is the best thing to happen to Catholicism in the US in a long time.

Brian Hutching
2 months 1 week ago

Great comment re Church and Caesar. Conflating Christianity with nationalism is certainly an issue in which there should be push back.

Robert Klahn
2 months 1 week ago

When Any Barret made a serious point of pushing religion into law she opened herself to examination on how she would apply her religious beliefs to law. That made Feinstein 's questions legitimate and worthwhile.

That does NOT make them anti-Catholic. When Barret told a graduating class that the purpose of their careers in law was to build the Kingdom of God that raised red flags that were clear and huge.

Diane Feinstein asked reasonable questions, Amy Barret gave specific answers that alleviated those doubts, at least in my mind. We don't need anyone trying to build a theocracy in this country.

To this day I remember when the principle of my school came into the class room and told us that, due to the supreme court decision, we would no longer have prayers in school. I was also glad that bible readings stopped.

As a Catholic I was always bothered that the prayers were always protestant, and the bible readings were always King James version.

Separation of church and state protects the church every bit as much as the state. After all, the creation of the Church of England and persecution of the Catholic Church was due to the church and state being entangled.

No, I do not see Feinstein's questions to be anti-Catholic. A fundy Christian should be questioned every bit as deeply, esp those who believe in tying church and state together. Many of those "Christians" do not even accept Catholics as Christians.

Timothy Hogan
2 months 1 week ago

Fr. McCormack commits the fallacy of composition in his criticisms of all Democrats in regards to a judicial nominee. Fr. McCormack also fails to report all the facts, some of which spurred the specific concerns which he mentions in his piece about some Democratic opposition to a Catholic judicial nominee.

My understanding is that the nominee for a US Circuit Court of Appeals judgeship in question has neither judicial nor litigation experience and has made statements which would concern me, if true. It has been reported that Professor Barrett has said that, as a judge, one's religious beliefs should supercede either the Constitution or any standing precedent.

Since both the US Constitution and the concept of "stare decisis" are at the core of judicial review, which is the sole function of an appellate court, such statements would disqualify such a nominee if I were voting. My belief is not "anti-Catholic," it is anti-authoritarian and in opposition to a functional religious litmus test for any judicial nominee by any administration.

I no more want someone deciding cases based upon my religion than any other. Such an approach is equivalent to an American Taliban.

Barry Fitzpatrick
2 months 1 week ago

"Neither party can be the home of the Catholic voter." How true. "Neither party is a good source of values of values and teachings for Catholics engaged in politics." Again, painfully accurate. So much of the vitriol concerning the wise admonitions of Fr. McCormick are from those happy to attribute motivation to others from their safe ivory towers. Bannon's and Feinstein's religious persuasion or prejudices have nothing to do with the inappropriateness of their commentary. Both exhibit a crass disregard for truth and for the development of conscience.

Are we really asking American Catholics to leave their entire belief system at the door before we enter serious discussion on the multi-faceted issues of our time? Really? Haven't we been doing that in the pews on Sunday as we glaze over at any mention of the real meaning of the Sermon on the Mount? The words that follow "Blessed are the . . . " are entirely revolutionary, yet we remain in our enclaves leaving our care of neighbor to others, never letting ourselves smell like the sheep. This is a great country, long obsessed with superlatives instead of substance as we argue who does what the best. The time has surely come, in fact it may have passed, for us to start focusing on what really matters, and in doing so, we can see the goodness that is all around us already, not in some Pollyanna fashion, but rather in such a way that we stand with those less fortunate as we help them to a better life by become active participants in that process, no longer spectators. How can we do that without our faith at the ready?

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months 1 week ago

Barry
You and Father McCormick are faced with a dilemma of your own fabrication. The Sermon on the Mount was preached to each of us as individuals.
Only if you try to outsource your response to those admonitions to the Government do you run into the unacceptable choices you outline. Had Christ meant to speak to the governing powers rather than to individuals I am quite sure He knew how to do so.

Robert Klahn
2 months ago

As much as I found his comment short of appropriate to the issue, yours seems to be completely off track.

Jesus told us to feed the poor, he did NOT tell us how to do it, nor limit it as to source of funding. I doubt He would recommend they turn to the Roman administration for the funding, but we can do so, and if this is a Christian country we should do so.

chris lane
2 months 1 week ago

I do not think Feinstein's and Durbin's comments show anti-Catholic bigotry. Rather they are reaching for what I, as a life long catholic, see as a real problem created by the pronouncements of some bishops appointed by Francis' predecessors. Pardon the generalizations, but brevity dictates.
1. Vatican II rejected the thesis that prevailed for hundreds of years in the institutional church that the law of the state must mirror the law of the church.
2. Nevertheless, a number of bishops (as well as priests and others) decreed in elections over the last 20+ years (and elsewhere) that a catholic politician who did not vote to make abortion, gay marriage, etc., illegal under US law (i.e., mirror the church law) must be denied communion
3. This is tantamount to saying the politician is/was in a state of mortal sin on this issue and, under historic church teaching, was condemned to hell, etc. I am sure there are some catholics who believe such things these days.
4. I think it would be a very legitimate line of questioning to ask a candidate for public office who professes to be catholic whether he/she believes that a politician or judge must exercise his/her civic office in pursuit of the goal that the law of the US should make illegal activities that the institutional teaches are wrong for an individual; whether he/she believes that in reaching that goal, he/she must follow the dictates of institutional leaders of the church as to what is right or wrong as a matter of both church and civic law; and what role he/she sees for prudential judgment and individual conscience in deciding these issues.
5. Feinstein and Durbin didn't create this problem. Certain bishops did.

Tom Poelker
2 months 1 week ago

Most priests seem more concerned with not upsetting parishioners than with catechizing them about the social justice teachings of the popes and the USCC. Local bishops who may have voted for the USCC teachings never seem to get around to preaching them instead of just publishing them. It appears that institutional preservation takes precedence over catechesis.

James Haraldson
2 months 1 week ago

Who are you to claim that Bannon does not care about the poor? Shame on you. Yes his quoted remark is inappropriate, but not the proper reaction to the silly reaction of our bishops who have no business objecting to normalizing the requirements of the United States Constitution.
We’ve come to expect foolishness from our leadership whenever any human sentiment over reason presents itself to express ill-formed public policy claims that makes those expressing them seem to be a “loving and caring” person when it costs them nothing at all.
DACA was clearly unconstitutional as it was and needs to be reviewed by Congress, which will probably sustain it legally.
If Catholic liberals, who have been ignoring abortion for decades, are so desperate to feel good about themselves, let them discover honest debate, not dishonest characterizations.

Brian Hutching
2 months 1 week ago

If you have to hold your nose and vote Republican, Trump, Bannon (before he was fired), Conway and that cabal on the hill and you believe in the Sermon on the Mount what are you to do if we are exhorted not to vote for candidates who are perceived to be liberal on some issues but critical of the treatment of the poor, immigrants and religious minorities? Not vote at all?

Robert Klahn
2 months ago

Bannon doesn't give a damn about the poor. I say that on the basis of a very long time looking at Breitbart and now looking at Bannon.

As to the constitutionality of DACA, that come under the authority to set priorities. Making those who have entered to take jobs over those who were brought here before they could take jobs and who grew up here is justifiable under that standard.

Oh, and I am a pro-life Catholic.

Robert Klahn
2 months ago

This comment is an expansion on what I wrote before, my previous comment to you was before I read what Amy Barrett had said and written. After that, and watching the questioning, I realized the Senators were even more justified in their questions.

Father McCormick, in reading your article I find you leaning toward creating a division between Democrats and Catholics I do not see existing in the real world. The only areas of significance to life in America today on which they differ involve sex. On all else I see the Democratic party most aligned with the Catholic Church.

On sex I do not see the Republicans all that enthusiastic in supporting Catholic principles. At least not outside of talking a good fight, sometimes. The single issue vote pattern doesn't work if the one you are voting for either doesn't mean it, or doesn't do any good.

Did you watch the questioning in the hearings? Did you read the statements and writings that led to those questions and statements by the Senators?

If not I have to accuse you of being uninformed. If you have I must decide if you are a liar or a fraud.

I read the statements and writings, and watched the questioning. While I find the working rather poor, I find the questions themselves reasonable.

Considering that five justices are Catholic, and one was raised Catholic but attends an Episcopal church I have to ask, was there any questioning of religion in those cases? Perhaps Amy Barrett made the questions relevant?

My Durban, himself a Catholic, asked first, "What is an "Orthodox" Catholic? Don't you think that question implies a bit more than anti-Catholic motive for his question whether Ms Barrett is an "Orthodox" Catholic?

I was offended when an editorial analysis in the local paper referred to VP Pence as having been raised a Catholic but left the church and became a "mainline" Christian. Doesn't it strike you as being references to Catholicism in ways we would not recognize?

Oh, and I am a liberal progressive pro-life Catholic Democrat. So there.

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