Written by: David P. Deavel
The Virginia Catholic Bishops have taken a good first step in opposing the agenda of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. As I wrote here at AMAC two weeks ago, the Catholic former DNC Chair and Virginia governor is running for governor again. He is not running away from his radical abortion support, his opposition to religious liberty, his support for what appear to be religious tests for public office that would exclude believing Catholics, nor his connections to current Virginia governor Ralph Northam, whose radicalism on abortion may surpass his own. Though many laity had been rumbling about the self-described “strong Catholic” and more than a few priests had begun to speak out from the pulpit about what a possible second term for McAuliffe portends for Catholic work and witness in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there had been no word from the bishops. Until now.
Jacob Adams of The Washington Free Beacon reported on July 28 that the Virginia Catholic Conference, which represents the two Catholic bishops of Virginia on public policy matters, has spoken out against McAuliffe’s plan “to repeal Virginia’s conscience clause, which allows religious charities to place children into foster homes and for adoption to families that share the organization’s moral convictions.” The Catholic Conference contends that the 2004 law not only protected religious liberty but allowed the expansion of adoption in the state. As executive director Jeff Caruso told the Free Beacon, “Virginia’s current law ensures that no child-placing agencies, including faith-based agencies, are forced to participate in child placements that violate their beliefs and moral convictions.” He added that “the law does not prevent anyone who wants to adopt a child or provide a foster home from doing so” and its repeal would only “harm families who want to work with agencies that share their beliefs.”
It’s a good first step for the bishops, but McAuliffe has not backed down from his false claims. On his “Inclusivity” button at his campaign website he tells supporters that his repeal of the conscience clause will “open up foster care and adoption to LGBTQ+ people”—as if there were no agencies that did such things—and he brags about his own officiating at a same-sex marriage and his making “Pride Month” an official holiday and creating an LGBT+ tourism committee for the state. The bishops might want to ask about the “anti-bullying” law he promises to pass as well as the “cultural competency” requirements he will enact for health workers. They sound like attempts to make sure no one hold any different moral views on sexuality or gender than those approved by the state.
His website’s “Protecting Women’s Rights and Ensuring Gender Equality” button tells us his first priority here is “passing an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that permanently enshrines and codifies the protections of Roe v Wade in Virginia law.” Not only does he want abortion on demand permanently legal, but he wants to make sure that constituents know that to oppose abortion is “anti-women” and that taxpayers ought to pay for it: “Terry vetoed all anti-women legislation passed by the General Assembly—including multiple bills that would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Virginia.” And as of July 23, current Governor Ralph Northam, he who thought babies born alive might simply be left to die and signed legislation that eliminated informed consent rules for abortions, stopped demanding health and safety precautions at abortion clinics, and allowed non-physicians to do first-trimester abortions, was still on the stump speaking on McAuliffe’s behalf.
McAuliffe’s problems are again the problems of the Democratic Party these days, an irony given the long association of the Catholic Church in the United States with the party since the days of the first Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith. The party is now seemingly committed to the idea that policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on life and the nature of marriage must be accepted by the Church—even policies that remove any ability for Catholic charities and adoption agencies to act on the basis of Catholic Christian teaching. Democrats believe any attempt by faithful Catholic bishops to exercise discipline over politicians who step over the line must be stopped.
At the end of June, a poorly written letter signed by sixty Catholic House Democrats was released calling on the U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to not allow the “weaponization of the Eucharist to Catholic Democrats.” Poor grammar aside, what they meant was that no discipline over the reception of the central Catholic sacrament should take place even though the signees support legalized abortion. Oddly enough this was justified on the basis of “the separation of church and state,” which is about the freedom of the Church to operate by her own rules—not about her need to accept any and all behavior on the part of Catholic officeholders just because they are Americans.
The Virginia bishops have made a good start but they ought to say more or they will see their ability to minister diminished in serious ways. On the political side of the question, will Republicans be able to see what these policies will do not only to Catholic but also Evangelical and other traditionally religious groups’ ministries? Will they see that religious believers will only turn to them if they are clearly in opposition to these policies erasing conscience protection?
In Georgia, it was an outside group, the Catholic Coalition Against Religious Tests, that created an ad showing how Jon Ossoff was joined at the hip with other Senate Democrats, whose line of questioning of Catholic judicial candidates was anti-Catholic enough to earn rebukes by the liberal ADL as well as several university presidents, and the twenty-eight state attorneys general who were persecuting the Little Sisters of the Poor. While the ad was not embraced by the GOP’s Washington, D.C., consultants—who showed in Georgia that they do not understand the power of “the Catholic issue” when it comes to opposing the Democrats—it did affect other outside political groups such as Heritage Action, which mounted a campaign that almost derailed Xavier Becerra’s nomination as Health and Human Services Secretary because their ads actually talked about Becerra’s enthusiastic suing of nuns for following their consciences.
Perhaps another outside group will have the courage and the skills to challenge McAuliffe who claims to be a “strong Catholic” but whose own positions might better be described as anti-Catholic. They might be able to appeal to Latino Catholics since, as 2020 data showed with an eight percent switch from Democrat to Republican voters, Latinos broadly are a politically persuadable group. Those Latinos who are solid Catholics or Evangelicals will likely resonate with messages showing how radical McAuliffe and, sadly, most Democrats are these days on abortion, sex-and-gender, and religious liberty.
There are a number of steps that will need to be taken to protect religious liberty and to start eliminating taxpayer funding of abortion and make progress on both limiting it and making sure where it is practiced informed consent and safety measures are at least put in place. But it is a good thing that the Virginia bishops have made the first one. If they keep taking steps, they will embolden their many brother bishops who also have fights for conscience and life on their hands.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.