Vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine’s habit of showcasing his faith credentials is proving to be a two-edged sword, as more and more Catholics find his ambiguous relationship with Church teaching to be deeply problematic.
In a new article titled “The Conflicted Catholicism of Tim Kaine,” writer Megan Sweas notes how Kaine loves to speak about his Jesuit high school education, his year as a missionary in Honduras and his personal faith journey that led him to pursue a career in public service.
This was no doubt part of the reason that Hillary Clinton chose Kaine as her running mate, Sweas suggests, since stories of his faith journey have helped “him win elections from city council to the Virginia governor’s mansion to the U.S. Senate.” Hillary, on the contrary, “has struggled to connect with the public personally and to talk about her own faith,” Sweas delicately observes.
“The Catholic vote is going to be absolutely critical to our success,” Kaine said recently, encouraging volunteers to rally their fellow Catholic around the Clinton campaign.
Though hardly a monolithic bloc, Catholics account for more than 50 million potential American voters, and the “Catholic vote” is important to anyone hoping to set up shop in the White House.
But Kaine’s alleged asset is also his Achilles heel. While he professes to being a “devout” Catholic, in point of fact he publicly flouts central Catholic teaching—notably on abortion—which has earned him nothing but scorn from conservative Catholics who are staunchly pro-life.
In her article, Sweas noted that Kaine has “a 100 percent pro-choice voting record for his time in the Senate from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood,” which has led many critics to call him a “hypocrite.”
While Kaine offers lip service to being “personally opposed” to abortion (à la Mario Cuomo), his words ring hollow to those who understand abortion to be a social evil that destroys the most vulnerable members of society.
Being personally opposed to abortion is like being personally opposed to racism or wife-beating. You can’t just “opt out” while supporting other people’s right to do harm. As one writer noted, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” is as silly as saying, “Don’t like rape? Don’t rape anyone!”
In Tuesday’s debate, Kaine trotted out his Catholic faith once again, but when challenged about conflicts between his faith and his voting record, Kaine deflected the question, saying that he doesn’t think that “the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone,” as if the protection of innocent life were merely a quibble of doctrine.
As Saint John Paul II wrote in 1995, the legal toleration of abortion “can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom.”
Considering this is an election year, the U.S. Catholic bishops have been unusually vocal in their criticism of Tim Kaine’s claims to being a faithful Catholic, citing his open dissent from essential moral teachings of the Church.
In a Facebook post titled “VP Pick, Tim Kaine, a Catholic?” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence noted that Kaine “has been widely identified as a Roman Catholic” while at the same time “he publicly supports ‘freedom of choice’ for abortion, same-sex marriage, gay adoptions, and the ordination of women as priests.”
“All of these positions are clearly contrary to well-established Catholic teachings; all of them have been opposed by Pope Francis as well,” Tobin wrote.
“Senator Kaine has said, ‘My faith is central to everything I do.’ But apparently, and unfortunately, his faith isn’t central to his public, political life,” Bishop Tobin concluded.
In a column in his diocesan newspaper, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput also took issue with Kaine for his open dissent from Catholic teaching, while bringing in sitting Vice President, Joe Biden as well.
These two “prominent Catholics,” the Archbishop said, “both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along.”
Anyone who claims the Catholic label while not actually believing what the Catholic faith holds to be true and letting it guide their thoughts and actions “is simply fooling himself or herself — and even more importantly, misleading others,” he added.
Come November, Tim Kaine may regret playing fast and loose with the religion card. Ideas have consequences and so do beliefs. Sometimes you will get called on it.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome