Politics & Policy

Is Tim Kaine a ‘Devout Catholic’?

Kaine speaks at an Obama re-election rally in 2012. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Hillary Clinton’s running mate has taken positions that are incompatible with the religion he professes.

This past Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton’s newly minted running mate Tim Kaine attended Mass at his home parish in Richmond, Va., seeking prayers from the community for his election bid. According to reports, he was asked to sing in the choir, and he performed a solo during the communion hymn.

This report highlights a common theme that has been expounded frequently in the days since Hillary unveiled him as the other half of the Democratic ticket: the idea of Tim Kaine as a devout Catholic.

In a Washington Post story, Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio described Kaine as a “Pope Francis Catholic,” and this phrase has been much-touted in recent discussions of Kaine’s faith.

After the VP choice, Mike Huckabee appeared on Fox News, praising Kaine for his “real faith” that he doesn’t “put away when it’s inconvenient for him,” despite also acknowledging that Kaine has voted and governed in favor of abortion.

The pastor at Kaine’s parish, St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Richmond, described the senator’s involvement in the parish in glowing terms, and, in response to Kaine’s overseeing of several deaths by capital punishment in the state, he allowed, “We respect sometimes lawmakers make difficult decisions.”

In part because of Kaine’s Catholic faith, Democrats expressed tremendous consternation following Clinton’s running-mate announcement, worrying that the Virginia senator might not be sufficiently progressive on abortion.

Primary evidence for this concern includes the fact that, as the Washington Post noted, Kaine “infuriated Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights groups by allowing the sale of ‘Choose Life’ license plates,” the proceeds of which benefited crisis-pregnancy centers.

Abortion supporters’ fears also stem from the fact that Kaine has openly admitted his personal opposition to abortion on account of his Catholic faith. In fact, in a 2005 interview, he even uttered the successive phrases, “I’m Catholic; I’m against abortion.”

But pro-abortion Democrats need not be anxious: Kaine followed this statement in his next breath by adding, “But I’m going to take an oath to follow the law, and I will follow the law.” This seemingly moderate image, however, is at odds with Kaine’s enthusiastic record of affirming a woman’s right to choose abortion. He has gone so far as to call himself a “strong supporter of Roe v. Wade.”

As a senator, he has received perfect, 100 percent scores from both Planned Parenthood and the NARAL, along with a zero rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said she was “very enthusiastic” about Kaine’s selection. Some political observers are already hypothesizing that he might move even further to the left and embrace taxpayer funding of abortion to align more closely with Clinton on the issue.

Kaine follows in a long tradition of so-called devout Catholic Democrats who claim to be “personally opposed” to abortion, ostensibly because of their faith, but who in practice support abortion on demand — people like former New York governor Mario Cuomo and current politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. (Ramesh Ponnuru yesterday pointed out some of the contradictions of such a position.)

As with his predecessors, the problem with the portrayal of Kaine as a faithful, even devout Catholic is that judging from both his political record and his own admissions, he violates Catholic teaching on several key issues, most notably abortion and same-sex marriage.

In the aforementioned 2005 interview, Kaine said, “I’ve always said ‘I’m not changing my religion to get elected.’” Though he hasn’t apparently changed his views or formally left the Catholic Church, the positions he has taken to get elected have put him flagrantly at odds with core Catholic teaching.

Some Church officials recently have responded negatively to his claims of being a faithful Catholic. For instance, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence released the following statement on the topic:

Democratic VP choice, Tim Kaine, has been widely identified as a Roman Catholic. It is also reported that he publicly supports “freedom of choice” for abortion, same-sex marriage, gay adoptions, and the ordination of women as priests. All of these positions are clearly contrary to well-established Catholic teachings; all of them have been opposed by Pope Francis as well.

Senator Kaine has said, “My faith is central to everything I do.” But apparently, and unfortunately, his faith isn’t central to his public, political life.

One Dominican priest tweeted at Kaine yesterday afternoon, “Do us both a favor. Don’t show up in my communion line. I take Canon 915 seriously. It’d be embarrassing for you & for me.” Canon 915 is a Church teaching, which holds that Catholics “persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” In this case, the priest is certainly referring to Kaine’s practical support for abortion.

Kaine can’t seriously be considered a “Pope Francis Catholic,” given that Pope Francis has consistently and unflinchingly spoken out against abortion in no uncertain terms. Though Kaine might elect to support some of Pope Francis’s statements — for instance, he has praised the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si for its focus on the environment — he shouldn’t be portrayed as a devout Catholic when he publicly and consistently opposes the Church on such a crucial issue as abortion.

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