Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Senator Kaine’s unhappy debut as a theologian

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 18, 2021

Senator Tim Kaine, the “Catholic” lawmaker from Virginia, writing in the National “Catholic” Reporter, gives us the familiar sanctimonious line:

Just as I don't believe Catholic clergy should dictate how I do my job representing a pluralistic society, I don't presume to suggest what church doctrine should be.

Right. He’s not going to tell our bishops what they should teach about doctrine. Can you guess what’s coming next?

Right. In the very next sentence, Kaine tells the bishops what they should teach about doctrine:

But I offer a simple suggestion: The American hierarchy should heed the words of Pope Francis and recognize Communion as an opportunity for healing rather than an occasion for judgment.

So now the American bishops face a tough decision: On the question of whether pro-abortion politicians should receive the Eucharist, should they follow the advice of Senator Kaine, or that of St. Paul, who wrote (1 Cor 11: 27): “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord,” and followed up by saying that an unrepentant sinner who receives the Eucharist “eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”

Thus it would seem that reception of the Eucharist is indeed “an occasion for judgment”— in the view of St. Paul, that is, if not the doctrinal teaching of Senator Kaine.

But remember, Senator Kaine is not interested in teaching doctrine. Or so he tells us. “But I am most concerned by the bishops’ flirtation with redefining the meaning of the sacrament itself.” Aha! So he knows the true meaning of the Eucharist, and fears the bishops may be led astray on this matter of… Excuse me, but wouldn’t that be a matter of doctrine?

Yet again, the senator doesn’t want to talk about doctrine. So let’s drop that side of the topic, and turn to the other nonsensical phrase in the sentence quoted above, in which Kaine says that clerics should not “dictate how I do my job representing a pluralistic society.” No one is proposing that Kaine should consult his bishop before casting a vote in the Senate. He is free to exercise his best judgment. For that matter, he is not required to consult the voters of Virginia before each vote; they, too, expect an elected representative to use his judgment. However, if the senator’s judgment is consistently at odds with popular opinion, he will not likely be re-elected. His votes have consequences.

Similarly, if Kaine’s votes consistently show a disdain for Catholic moral teaching on crucial issues involving the respect for human life, there are consequences for those choices as well. His bishop cannot remove him from the Senate, but he can tell Kaine that his public stands are morally indefensible, that they constitute a scandal for the Church, that they endanger his immortal soul. A bishop who does not admonish Kaine in those terms is failing in his duties as a teacher and a pastor— and thereby endangering his own soul.

Of course Kaine’s real complaint— leaving aside his embarrassing attempt at theological rumination— is that some American bishops propose to clarify the Church’s insistence that support for the slaughter of the innocent is morally indefensible. (Why any such clarification is needed, at this late date, is a question for another day.) Kaine is unhappy with Archbishop José Gomez, the president of the bishops’ conference, who has chastised President Biden for his public statements and actions on “abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” This, the senator tells us, was an “ad hominem rebuke.” (What other kinds of rebuke is there, I wonder?)

Liberal Democrats routinely question the bishops’ focus on these issues, and suggest that Catholics should give equal weight to a politician’s views on other moral issues such as racism and poverty and climate change. But all these issues involve judgments that responsible people can question. What is the best way to eliminate racism, to ease poverty, to protect the environment? Good Catholics give different answers to these questions, because the answers are not immediately clear. Not so with the issue of abortion. Abortion is the deliberate destruction of an innocent human life; that is a statement of scientific fact.

Moreover, on the issue of abortion the terms of the American political debate have become so extreme that any moral compromise is impossible. Liberal Democrats do not merely support the legal acceptance of abortion; they insist that taxpayers subsidize the slaughter, that pro-life advocates be silenced, that doctors must cooperate with abortionists, even that religious institutions must cover the practice in their health-insurance policies. Despite Senator Kaine’s ritual obeisance to the value of “pluralism,” the goal of abortion advocates is clearly to suppress all contrary opinion: to punish moral resistance.

Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that the threat of climate change deserves to given equal priority with the assault on innocent human life. To match the extremism of the pro-abortion position, a politician who violates the Church’s teaching on care for the environment would have to call for the deliberate destruction of the ozone layer, accomplished with lavish taxpayer funding, and legal restrictions on the expression of environmentalist opinions. Needless to say, no sane politician, Catholic or not, approaches such absurd stands.

Yet Catholic politicians continue to torture the rules of logic in our political debates on abortion. And now Senator Kaine proposes to do the same violent service to our discourse on Catholic theology. This is, surely, “an occasion for judgment.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - May. 20, 2021 7:22 AM ET USA

    Politicians - whether claiming to be Catholic or not - are not expected to be 100% correct on matters of the Catholic Faith, but the Bishops are.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - May. 20, 2021 5:31 AM ET USA

    Kaine is another wolf in sheep's clothing. He should be excommunicated. His direction to the Ch0urch is laughable and sad. Sad for number of "progressive" Catholics that wiil go along with his garbage. St Michael protect us. Mary protect us.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - May. 19, 2021 5:04 PM ET USA

    The Kaine issue was high on my mind in 2016. It told me all I needed to know about his pastor and parish, too. The benign neglect of our clergy has come home to roost after a half century of turning a blind eye to the breathtaking, overt, and petulantly daring stance taken by Catholic politicians. No matter what Cordileone now says, where has he been all the years Pelosi has been scandalizing the church? Where has Kaine's bishop been? The private talks are well past their freshness date.

  • Posted by: Cory - May. 19, 2021 6:57 AM ET USA

    This will all be solved if Bishops develop some spine and excommunicate these politicians. Then there's be no question about whether they should be given communion or not. Isn't Cordelione Pelosis's bishop? Why not just excommunicate her.

  • Posted by: Cory - May. 19, 2021 6:55 AM ET USA

    I truly don't get people who push the Eucharist as if the sole purpose is healing. Do they not pay attention at the Mass? The Priest prays may it not bring me condemnation but health in mind and body. IT does bring condemnation.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - May. 18, 2021 6:38 PM ET USA

    When anyone consistently creates in his own head some cognitive dissonance, this produces a stress that has to be dealt with. So people like Kaine, realizing that their public stance contradicts their Church's clear teaching, know that their party will disavow them if they reject, in this case, murder of the innocent, they have to change their understanding of the truth, and urge others to join them. It's all chemical.