Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

NYT Hit Piece on CA7 Nominee Amy Barrett’s Religious Practices—Part 1

“Some Worry About Judicial Nominee’s Ties to a Religious Group.” That’s the odd title of religion reporter Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times article on Seventh Circuit nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s membership in an ecumenical Christian group called People of Praise.

Some observations:

1. After Senator Feinstein’s display of anti-Catholic bigotry against Barrett, Goodstein pivots to suggest that Barrett might not really be a “faithful Catholic.” “Some of [People of Praise’s] practices would surprise many faithful Catholics,” she writes. Among other things:

Some former members criticize the group for deviating from Catholic doctrine, which does not teach “male headship,” in contrast to some evangelical churches.

Note that Goodstein here seems to present as fact that “Catholic doctrine … does not teach ‘male headship.’” But the apostolic letter from Pope John Paul II that she links to explains and defends (in section 24) what the Letter to the Ephesians means by the disputed passage, “the husband is the head of the wife.” In other words, Catholic doctrine does teach a concept of “male headship.” Goodstein doesn’t even acknowledge, much less try to satisfy, her burden of showing that People of Praise’s understanding of the concept of “male headship” differs from Catholic doctrine.

People of Praise is interdenominational, but (according to Wikipedia) “more than 90% of its members are Roman Catholic.” Elements of the Catholic charismatic renewal might indeed “surprise many faithful Catholics,” but so far as I’m aware no Catholic authority has ever faulted Catholics for being part of People of Praise.

Indeed, just a few years months ago Pope Francis appointed a member of People of Praise as auxiliary bishop of Portland, Oregon. So much for the suggestion that faithful Catholics can’t be members of People of Praise.

People of Praise will not, of course, be part of every Catholic’s religious vocation, nor will all members of the group have lived out their charism in a manner that is beyond criticism. But it’s bizarre of Goodstein to use People of Praise to seem to call into question Barrett’s adherence to her Catholic faith.

2. Goodstein insinuates that Barrett improperly failed to list her membership in People of Praise on her Senate questionnaire response. But the Senate questionnaire, presumably because of concerns about improper inquiry into a nominee’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), doesn’t ask about membership in religious organizations. (Contrast question 11.a.) So the simple answer to the climactic question from law professor Cathleen Kaveny that ends Goodstein’s article—“why didn’t she disclose this [i.e., her membership in People of Praise]?”—is that the questionnaire didn’t ask for it.

I’m reliably informed that Goodstein did not even raise this matter with the White House when she asked questions yesterday afternoon for her story. Had she done so, she might have avoided her mistaken insinuation.

More to come.

Ed Whelan — Ed Whelan is a leading commentator on nominations to the Supreme Court and the lower courts and on issues of constitutional law.

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