The Catholic card

The nomination of Judge John Roberts is driving some Democrats to distraction because he is probably ultimately un-Borkable. As my colleague Gene Healy wrote, Roberts’ selling points include “[g]reat grades, stellar resume, nice posture, nice smile, [and] no doubt a firm handshake. But where he stands on anything is anyone’s guess. What we’ve got here is a guy who, apparently, was genetically engineered and grown in a vat for the sole purpose of getting past the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

So people are looking for proxies to try to infer Roberts’ opinions, and one of those proxies is religion. Roberts is a practicing Catholic, and plenty of attention is being focused on his parish of choice: Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland. Beliefnet sent my friend and former colleague George Neumayr to the church in search of some clues into Roberts’ true beliefs. Neumayr came away with certain impressions of the church and “its most famous parishioner.” Little Flower, Neumayr writes, is a parish “that heterodox Catholics would regard as an outpost of traditional Catholicism.”

To wit:

Little Flower displays the marks of a parish in conformity with official Catholic teaching: a large picture of Pope Benedict XVI at the moment of his papal election greets visitors as they enter the church; there is a Vatican flag on the altar; the bulletin board in the foyer announces the beginning of the canonization process for Pope John Paul II; pro-life literature is prominently available; the parish newsletter encourages congregants “to send your best wishes and prayer intentions to Pope Benedict XVI . . . by e-mail to”

If the Democrats really want to get nasty, they’ll drag Roberts’ priest into the proceedings. The Roberts clan was apparently so taken with Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi that it followed him to Little Flower when he moved from St. Patrick’s in D.C. I hope the Dems flinch from dragging Vaghi’s proclamations into the mix, but if they decide to do so, here’s a preview:

Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi, upholds the Vatican’s teaching on artificial birth control, an issue American priests have tended to relativize, dismiss or ignore since Vatican II.

On the Church of the Little Flower’s website, which links to the Vatican and promotes traditional piety and devotions such as “Forty Hours of Eucharistic Adoration,” Monsignor Vaghi has posted a meditation on chastity. Quoting the archbishop of Bologna, he said that every “sexual act performed outside marriage” is “gravely illicit,” but “even within marriage there can be an exercise of sexuality that does not respect its moral value: when the conjugal act does not truly respect the dignity of the person of one’s spouse, as well as when it is deprived, through a positive intervention of the spouses, of its natural capacity to give origin to new life.”

In another meditation, Monsignor Vaghi staunchly defended the Church’s teaching on abortion. “After all, since Roe v. Wade in l973, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion, there have been over 44 million abortions, young children dying before they had the opportunity to enjoy life outside the womb as we enjoy life,” he wrote. “Our church is always, and will always, be on the side of life, life from conception until natural death. And it is precisely because Jesus took on life, took on flesh and ennobled it by becoming man and like us in everything but sin that we value human life so much, that we were born in His image and reborn in Christ Jesus.”

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  • Maureen

    Msgr. Vaghi is somebody whose name I’ve heard before, and favorably. I’ve never heard of Mr. Roberts before this Court nomination. It’s kinda odd that Mr. Neumayr wouldn’t mention Vaghi’s semi-prominence. Just try Googling “Msgr. Vaghi” and see what you get, eh?

    But that said, it really is foolhardy to judge a man by the pastor he follows. Somebody can attend a church with a really saintly priest and still be a real sinner. (Insert obligatory lawyer joke here.) And we American Catholics tend to like our own way….

  • Maureen

    Oh, and Msgr. Vaghi was apparently once a staffer to Pete Domenici. Mighty is the Google.

  • Justine Surrat

    Should Catholic politicians who don’t work to outlaw contraception be denied communion?

  • Tom Harmon


    There’s a difference between not doing evil and doing every good. Catholics (and everyone) are required to avoid doing evil, but are not required to pursue every single good. If a law came before a Catholic legislator that would outlaw contraception and he voted aqainst it, we might expect Catholic bishops to deny him communion. Not for simply not pursuing every avenue in his power to outlaw contraception, though.

  • Susan F Peterson

    I am not even sure if a Catholic legislator has to vote for a measure to prohibit contraception. Not everything which is morally wrong has to be prohibited by law. Abortion falls into a different category because it involves taking a human life, and protecting the right to life is one of the basic reasons that governments are established.
    Susan F. Peterson

  • C. Wingate

    OK, so I’m looking at this whole fret over abortion (and frankly, I think reversing Roe is going to be a lot harder than just naming one justice), and I’m wondering, “OK! So here we have this completely assinine Kelo decision, and does anybody care?” I have to think that Roberts has a much better trail on this sort of law. Who knows? Maybe the whole thing is a clever trick to distract from the rest of his record. (confession: I know nothing about this record.)

  • Cindy Bravo

    In 1960, John Kennedy said that his faith was personal, not public policy. He established that he would do what the american people want, not what the church told him to do. The American Catholic church, reflecting the spirit of Vatican II supported him unequivically.

    In 2004 several church officials said that John Kerry could not be a “good” Catholic if he did not put the teachings of the church first.

    What goes around comes around I suppose. This raises the question as to wheather a “good” Catholic is fit for office. If the pope says “A” and the majority of the American people say “B” what is he going to do?

    I’m a Catholic and the new evangelism of the Catholic church is scaring me. I can only imagine how it effects non catholics, and non evangelicals.

  • tmatt


    See the point I just made on the “thicket” thread. Contraception is a major issue in Catholic thought, but it is nowhere near as major an issue in 2000 years of unbroken Orthodox and Catholic tradition as abortion. Also, a person failing to actively oppose is not the same thing as actively SUPPORTING an action of such great moral evil (in the ancient Christian tradition).

  • Tom R

    I once heard a Catholic seminarian (moderately traditionalist, somewhere about Vatican 1.9 to Vatican 2.2) say that abortion must non-negotiably be outlawed because it harms others, but since contraception harms primarily those who practice it themselves, legislators are not bound to outlaw it.

  • SEV

    Media Matters recently reported that there have been more articles in the press that mention Roberts’ faith as a reason to support his nomination than there have been articles that mention his faith as a reason to question or oppose his nomination… who’s playing the catholic card now?

  • Stephen A.

    SEV, it sounds like it’s finally paying off to be a Catholic! I’m sure Catholics are overjoyed at this sudden, albeit likely brief, change.