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.
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.