Amy Coney Barrett vs Pope Francis
Stunningly, the Vatican is moving in the right direction as the U.S. Supreme Court lurches backward
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The Supreme Court has now shifted to the far, far right, with the installation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. In a White House swearing in by Justice Clarence Thomas — an enormous insult to American women — Donald Trump turned it into a campaign event. Barrett didn’t have to agree to a White House event, opting instead for the usual swearing in at the Supreme Court.
But she did, then she promised judicial “independence” when in fact her own behavior and refusal to answer questions during her confirmation hearing said otherwise.
We now have a Supreme Court out of step with the American people on so many issues, lurching back to the 1950s.
A new survey released over the weekend from Public Religion Research Group, for example, shows an all-time high in support for marriage equality: More than two-thirds of Americans, 70%, support equality. And yet, in a completely inverse reality, with the installation of Barrett on the Supreme Court, two-thirds of the justices on the highest court in the land are now opponents of marriage equality.
That’s a 6-3 opposition: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the blistering dissent in the 5-4 Obergefell marriage equality ruling in 2015, which the late profoundly homophobic Antonin Scalia joined, in addition to writing his own warped and ugly opinion, adding to his list of viciously, bigoted anti-gay screeds. And Barrett has not only publicly praised Roberts’ dissenting opinion; she clerked for Scalia, whom she called her “mentor.”
Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a statement several weeks ago:
I felt like I knew the justice before I ever met him, because I had read so many of his colorful, accessible opinions. More than the style of his writing, though, it was the content of Justice Scalia's reasoning that shaped me. ... A judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were.
That is how divorced the U.S. Supreme Court is now from the sentiment of the American public, as it is frighteningly will regress on so many issues important to millions.
Barrett has described herself as an orthodox Catholic — who even has belonged to a sect, People of Praise, in which women are subjugated to men, and according to the New York Times, “rejects openly gay men and women.” And she’s been installed on the Supreme Court by the Republican-controlled Senate in an illegitimate process days before an election.
And yet, startlingly, just a week before her elevation to the court, we learned that Pope Francis, the leader the Catholic Church to which Barrett adheres, came out for same-sex civil union laws.
Certainly, civil unions — a kind of “separate but equal” idea — are a throwback to 15 years ago, and are not equivalent to same-sex marriage, in which gay and lesbian couples enjoy all the rights of heterosexual couples. And Francis, as is the case with previous statements he’s made supporting gay people, hasn’t moved to change church doctrine to match his words, which is a much more complicated process involving ultra-conservative forces in the Vatican with whom the Pope has been at odds since he took the papacy. Homosexuality, according to church doctrine is still deemed, “intrinsically disordered.”
But in Vatican time, the pope’s statement came at warp speed. And in recent days, Francis also announced that Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington DC, would become the church’s first African-American cardinal. It was a surprise announcement in which Francis announced 13 new cardinals.
It seems like more than a coincidence that Francis did this roughly two weeks before the U.S. election in which Donald Trump — whose policies on climate change, immigration and other issues Francis views as dangerous, judging by his own words — is in a battle for his re-election. Gregory, in an unusual public foray into American politics, lashed out at Trump last June after Trump used a Catholic basilica in Washington as a photo-op with a bible. That was the day after Trump had infamously tear-gassed protesters for a photo-op, also with a bible, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square.
Gregory, often described as mild-mannered and diplomatic, put out a blistering statement, condemning the use of the basilica, which has become a museum to Pope John Paul II, run by the conservative Catholic men’s organization, the Knights of Columbus, which has lobbied against same-sex marriage and other causes:
I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree. [Saint Pope John Paul II] certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.
When a theocratic monarchy is going in the right direction while our representative democracy is going backward, that democracy is in trouble
Gregory came under brutal racist and homophobic attacks by conservative, Trump-aligned forces within the church after his statement, as reported by Religion News Service:
A conservative Catholic publication has sparked backlash after it released a video on Thursday (June 11) referring to the African American archbishop of Washington as an “accused homosexual,” a “Marxist” and an “African Queen.”
Gregory had been appointed archbishop by Francis in 2019, as Francis appeared to be moving to put those who share his views on church theology in place, replacing long-time ultra-conservatives who’d aligned with the Christian right and even the Republican Party over the years. Earlier this year, in a bold move that caused uproar among church conservatives, Francis replaced one of his most ardent critics, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
As the New York Times described him, “Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Francis’ mission to move beyond the culture wars dominated by sexual politics.”
The Vatican is a theocratic elective monarchy, in which the pope is both the leader of the Catholic Church worldwide and also a monarch with supreme power over legislative, executive, and judicial matters in the sovereign state of Vatican City.
The key term here is “elective monarchy”: Unlike kings and queens, who were heirs to the thrones, popes are elected by the cardinals. But the pope also replaces cardinals and creates new cardinals. So Francis has enormous power in both putting in place those cardinals who will change church doctrine down the line — as ultra-conservative forces retire or die off — and in deciding who the next pope (and those who follow) will be. Obviously that is a long, long process, and it’s why change only happens in the church over generations.
Nonetheless, Francis is moving the Catholic Church and the Vatican in the right direction, while the U.S. — long considered the greatest democracy on earth — is going in the wrong direction, with a Supreme Court using its religious beliefs to enshrine into law positions that the vast majority oppose and which will allow for rampant discrimination against women, people of color, LGBTQ people, religious minorities, workers and others.
When the U.S., a representative democracy, is going in the opposite direction of the Vatican, a theocratic monarchy, on the progressive issues of our time — and Francis has been outspoken on racial justice in addition to climate change, pushing back against Trump — our democracy is in enormous danger.
That’s why Democrats must reform the Supreme Court — and all the circuit courts — if Joe Biden wins and Democrats take the Senate. And the only way to do that is to expand the number of seats on the courts and make them balanced.