God in Government blogger Jacqueline L. Salmon notes that the blogosophere is buzzing with speculation about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s Catholicism. If her nomination and Catholicism is confirmed, Sotomayor would join five other Catholics on the court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
That would mean six of nine Supreme Court Justices would be Catholic. Or would it? Is Sotomayor really Catholic? How Catholic is she? Should 23 percent of the nation’s population get 67 percent of the nation’s highest court? Does it matter? Do you care?
Sotomayor, who is Puerto Rican, did attend Catholic schools in New York, including Cardinal Spellman High. One White House official told beliefnet.com blogger Steve Waldman: “Judge Sotomayor…attends church for family celebrations and other important events.”
Hmmm. Sounds like what those of us who are from the South like to call a CME Christian — a Christian who only goes to church on Christmas, Mothers’ Day and Easter. Not that church attendance has ever been an accurate measure of a person’s true faith or faithfulness. But in Sotomayor’s case, her brand of Catholicism seems to be more at issue that her regular attendance at mass. In reports about her nomination, more progressive Catholic news sites are emphasizing her more liberal Catholicism while conservative sites are downplaying or even ignoring her current religious affiliation.
On the more progressive side, the “independent” National Catholic Reporter led its front page with NCR Today columnist Thomas C. Fox asking: “Is she or isn’t she Catholic?” He concluded that Sotomayor was raised Catholic, but her current affiliation is unknown and that her nomination raises two issues: “What constitutes Catholic affiliation today (self-affiliation?); the other, the diversity of Catholicism itself.”
On the website of America: The National Catholic Weekly, blogger Michael Sean Winters offers a broader view of the nominee’s faith: “People ask if Sotomayor is a Catholic and I reply that she is a Puerto Rican. Whether she is active in the Church, the Church is active in her because in Latin culture, the Church is carried not only through its institutional manifestations but through the culture and especially through the family.”
And culture editor James Martin says any questions about the nominee’s Catholicism should be put to rest: “The very talented Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s choice for Supreme Court justice is, as you’ve probably heard, a Roman Catholic and the product of Catholic schooling. As a result, the unfortunate question ‘How Catholic?’ was bound to come up. (Frankly, the only person who can ask that, as far as I’m concerned, is your priest, your spiritual director, or God, and not in that order.)”
On the conservative side, the Catholic News Service (of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), didn’t address the nominee’s faith until paragraph 19: “Jesuit Father Joseph O’Hare, the retired president of Fordham University who served with Sotomayor on a New York City campaign finance review council, said when he knew her beginning in the late 1980s she was indeed a practicing Catholic. He said he has no reason to think that has changed. They have stayed in touch intermittently, and he said she gave his name as a reference for her FBI background check.”
Over at the Catholic League, William Donohue, president and arbiter of all things Catholic, acknowledges that Sotomayor is Catholic but also “reliably liberal.” The Catholic League “takes no position on the merits of Sonia Sotomayor to be on the Supreme Court,” Donohue said, but he did applaud her heritage. “On a personal note, I must say that having spent four years in the 1970s teaching in a Catholic elementary school in Spanish Harlem, I loved working with the Puerto Rican people. Indeed, I feel some of the pride that Puerto Ricans rightly feel today. Good for them — this is their special day.”
And the Catholic News Agency noted that Sotomayor would be “the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court and the first Latina,”but it’s 559-word report on the nomination did not include the word Catholic.
American Catholicism, it seems, is just as diverse politically as all of American Christendom.
As Cathleen Kaveny, law professor at the University of Notre Dame and On Faith panelist, noted in an interview with Manya Brachear of the Chicago Tribune, Sotomayor’s nomination puts the Church’s diversity on display.
“My guess is she’s very much operating in accordance with the commitments of the Catholic social justice tradition which is emphasizing … inclusion, solidarity, justice to those least among us,” Kaveny said. “It’s strand of American Catholic teaching that is somewhat distinct from other Catholic teaching but not incompatible. People emphasize different aspects.”
So what do you think? Vote now: