Ralph Neas of the People for the American Way made it official. He said it. I bet he didn't even know he said it. Debating C. Boyden Gray of the Committee for Justice on the Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes July 29, he was decrying the implication in a Committee for Justice ad that certain senators on the Judiciary Committee were anti-Catholic. The now famous ad defending federal court nominee Bill Pryor depicted a court house door bearing the sign, "Catholics need not apply."
After voicing his outrage at the suggestion — which Mr. Gray denied making — that the senators were anti- Catholic, Mr. Neas further protested that he himself was Catholic. Program co-host Alan Colmes also protested that several of the senators in question were Catholic. This, of course, proves nothing, because there is no shortage — especially in the U.S. Senate — of people who were raised Catholic and yet spit in the face of common Catholic teachings and beliefs.
It is here that Mr. Neas spilled the beans. After angrily demanding an apology from Mr. Gray for allegedly calling people anti-Catholic, he said, "Our position at People for the American Way is to oppose those nominees of an extreme right-wing judicial philosophies [interruption] ... in opposition to reproductive rights — many other issues." In case you missed it, as Mr. Neas obviously did, he just characterized normative, orthodox Catholic belief as "extreme right wing." If by "reproductive rights" he means abortion on demand as defined by Roe vs. Wade, he further insults Catholic belief by employing this transparent euphemism, and in so doing he tipped his hand as to the true attitude toward Catholicism held by him and those he is defending.
Mr. Neas' tone certainly indicated his contempt for things "extreme right wing," which further indicates that he has some contempt for Catholicism since normative Catholic teaching is, by Mr. Neas' definition, "extreme right-wing."
It follows that in the minds of Mr. Neas and the obstructing senators, a judicial candidate who happens to believe, agree with and holds true the teachings of his Catholic faith is to be considered "extreme right wing" and somehow dangerously unfit for high judicial office.
For the record, Catholic teaching condemns all abortion as intrinsically evil and therefore always and everywhere wrong. If holding this normative Catholic belief makes one "extreme right wing," then someone has moved the fulcrum on this balance, or Mr. Neas' perspective is coming from an extreme left-wing perspective, because the Catholic Church hasn't moved on this in 2,000 years.
Catholics and other pro-lifers do not oppose abortion because they want to "control women's bodies" or other things their opponents' protest signs stupidly suggest. Catholics oppose abortion because it is murder, and murder cannot and must not be countenanced in a civil society.
If the senators wish to distance themselves from a 2,000-year-old intellectual and legal tradition that supports this, and instead align themselves with those whose greatest contribution to Western culture is "Keep your rosaries off of my ovaries," that's their choice. If the senators view the latter group as the "mainstream" and the defenders of 2,000 years of civilization as "extreme right wingers" that is also their choice. But they should not be shocked — shocked! — when they are opposed by Catholics.
If the senators believe the Catholic tradition is a lot of nonsense, that's fine. But if so, they should not call themselves Catholic because this is what Catholics believe. It is time that the Catholic Church be dealt with on its own terms rather than dissent, misunderstandings and bigoted fallacies.
With regard to senators who protest that they are Catholics, yet regard judicial candidates as "dangerous" and "extreme right wing" precisely because of their deeply held Catholic beliefs, one must ask these senators what exactly they think Catholicism is. Catholicism, among other things, and at the very least, is a set of beliefs, and we have senators who reject those beliefs as "extreme" and contemptible while simultaneously protesting that they are Catholic. By their public support for abortion, they have effectively placed themselves out of communion with the Catholic Church. So what exactly do they mean when they call themselves Catholic? Their upbringing? Which evidently failed in forming them as Catholic adults? It does suggest that dissident or fallen away Catholics are acceptable for the bench but orthodox Catholics who actually believe what they profess are not.
John Mallon is contributing editor of Inside the Vatican magazine and a political consultant.
The Washington Times
Letters to the Editor
Published August 17, 2003
John Mallon's Tuesday diatribe, "Bias and judicial nominees," builds a sweeping accusation of religious intolerance around an incomplete and therefore misleading quote from my appearance on the "Hannity and Colmes" show.
While being repeatedly interrupted by Sean Hannity as I was answering one of his questions, I said, "Our position at People for the American Way is to oppose those nominees who have an extreme right-wing judicial philosophy, including opposition to reproductive rights, civil rights, and many other issues." Mr. Mallon leaves out the reference to civil rights, which is clearly audible on a tape of the show, in order to try to bolster his case that the debate about judicial nominees is a question of nominees' theological position on abortion rather than about their judicial philosophy regarding the Constitution and laws.
That is a distortion not only of my comments, but of the entire judicial nominations controversy. I was making the point that opposition to Bill Pryor and other far-right Bush nominees is based not on any single issue (and certainly not on religious beliefs), but on a judicial philosophy and approach to the law that would turn back the clock on many social justice gains of the past seven decades, regardless of the nominees' underlying motivation. That includes not only a woman's right to choose, which is supported by a majority of American Catholics, but also civil rights enforcement, environmental protection, privacy, religious liberty and much more.
In addition to misrepresenting the substance of my remarks, Mr. Mallon's article includes contemptuous remarks about my faith — I am a lifelong Catholic — that are appallingly beyond the pale. His article is part of an unfortunate and deeply offensive campaign attacking Catholics in public life based on the selective enforcement of theological orthodoxy. (Mr. Mallon does not address, for example, church teachings on the death penalty or artificial birth control. Does he believe people who support access to contraceptives or who support current death penalty laws are anti-Catholic?)
I am proud of People for the American Way's work to preserve constitutional rights and liberties, including the separation of church and state. And I am proud to be part of a long and still vibrant tradition of Catholic social justice advocacy.
RALPH G. NEAS
People for the American Way
On the record
Letters to the Editor
The Washington Times
Ralph Neas accuses me of distorting his remarks in my Op-Ed, "Bias and judicial nominees." He says, "Mr. Mallon leaves out the reference to civil rights, which is clearly audible on a tape of the show, in order to try to bolster his case that the debate about judicial nominees is a question of nominees' theological position on abortion rather than about their judicial philosophy regarding the Constitution and laws."
This is not true, as I was working from a Lexis-Nexus transcript of his remarks that did not pick up the "civil rights" reference, and did not have access to a tape. But it makes no difference. To a Catholic who thinks with the church, it is an oxymoron to use the term "civil rights" in the same sentence with the ideological euphemism "reproductive rights," used here to mean the snuffing out of the lives and civil rights of the unborn.
He asserts that "a woman's right to choose" (another offensive ideological euphemism) is "supported by a majority of American Catholics." I question those statistics, but, even if true, then those Catholics will have to take that up with God, either here or in the hereafter, assuming the notion is not too quaint for them, because in terms of Catholicism, they are in grave error. Not that I can convince them, but here is what their church says on the matter: "It must in any case be clearly understood that whatever may be laid down by civil law in this matter, man can never obey a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion. Nor can he take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it. Moreover, he may not collaborate in its application." (Declaration on Procured Abortion, No. 22, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Nov. 18, 1974)
As I said in my article, if one chooses to see this as so much poppycock, that is his or her freedom of choice. The problem is claiming to be Catholic while doing so. But my article was about integrity. Speaking of which, Mr. Neas mentions the death penalty. A Catholic of integrity may support the death penalty because, unlike abortion, in terms of moral theology, executing a convicted criminal is not an intrinsically evil act. It is permissible in certain cases, while directly killing an unborn child is not. As for birth control, science is revealing more and more the abortifacient (abortion causing) effects of widespread chemical methods.
Mr. Neas says my article "includes contemptuous remarks about my faith — I am a lifelong Catholic — that are appallingly beyond the pale." On the contrary, it is the public scandal of Catholics promoting abortion that is contemptuous of the Catholic faith and appallingly beyond the pale.
In short, despite Mr. Neas' assertions, any "social justice" advocacy that includes a "right" to abortion is not Catholic, and for many Americans, not the American way.