What kind of Catholic is Tim Kaine?

What kind of Catholic is Tim Kaine? July 23, 2016

Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton selected Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her vice-presidential running mate.

Immediately, Democrats of various stripes reacted with delight or disappointment. Progressives of the sort that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the nominating contest preferred a running mate with more solid liberal credentials. But Kaine, in spite of having a reputation as a centrist, is actually a very typical Democrat.

Some abortion-rights supporters expressed dismay that Kaine was insufficiently committed to reproductive rights, even though he has perfect ratings from pro-choice interest groups. Kaine’s position is essentially that of Vice President Joe Biden. Both are practicing Roman Catholics, and both say they are personally opposed to abortion but do not believe their vocation as Catholic politicians requires them to advocate for the criminalization of abortion.

Kaine is well known for being shaped by his Catholic faith, including a stint with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Some are calling Kaine a “Pope Francis Catholic,” but the truth is more complicated than that. On abortion, it seems safe to assume the Holy Father would like to see Kaine doing more. But the pope has said that abortion and homosexuality are not the only or most important issues Catholic social teaching addresses.

On economic issues, Kaine is demonstrably not as progressive as Pope Francis.

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There are no Catholics in national politics who believe the entire body of their Church’s social teaching. Or at least none who act in accordance with that belief. Given the power of parties and interest groups that hold positions profoundly at odds with the Catholic Church, it would be impossible for a politician with such views to survive.

That does not mean there are no faithful Catholics in American politics. I have the most respect for Catholics in public life who plainly state when they disagree with their Church’s social teaching. Sometimes, their social consciences are much more profoundly formed by secular ideologies than their faith. Other times, they simply reject the Church’s authority to pronounce authoritatively on such matters.

I have already said that I do not think vice presidential nominees make any difference on Election Day. They hardly matter during the general election campaign. But vice presidents are increasingly consequential parts of presidents’ administrations, and many have become president. So it is certainly worth thinking seriously about their political formation and the sources of their policy preferences.

If, as Vice President, Mrs. Clinton makes Kaine a significant leader on immigration reform, poverty, the environment or criminal justice, reporters and commentators will explore how his Catholic faith informs his views and priorities in those areas.

But it seems to me that abortion will be most consequential issue connected to Kaine’s Catholicism for the next 4, 8, 12, or 16 years. Notably, almost nothing has been said since Kaine’s selection Friday about his views on marriage or how/whether he reconciles his Catholic faith with his view that same sex relationships should be recognized as marriages in law and society.

Everyone wants to talk about Kaine’s record on abortion policy.

Abortion opponents are hopeful that Kaine’s (past?) support for parental notification and informed consent laws, as well as his opposition to late-term abortions, might signal his openness to restrictions that, while politically popular, significantly undermine pro-choice elites’ logic and rhetoric.

We won’t get the stark debate on abortion rights from Trump and Clinton that we might have gotten between, say, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders. But it will be interesting to see how the vice presidential nominees engage reproductive rights issues on the campaign trail and in the vice-presidential debate. There’s no way Kaine can out-pro-life Mike Pence. But they could have a meaningful debate about how to reduce the number of abortions sought and performed in this country.

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