AMAC Newsline – By – David P. Deavel
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and former governor and national DNC Chair) Terry McAuliffe’s campaign against Republican Glenn Youngkin has hit a number of rough patches, as AMAC Newsline reported last week. Not only have past flip-flops on current Governor Northam come back to haunt him, but his current ham-handed attempts to cast parental opposition to Critical Race Theory in schools as simply GOP spin and his deafening silence on other national issues on which Dems are unpopular are casting a shadow over his attempt to return to office. While McAuliffe and the Democrats have recently attempted to get back ground by hammering Youngkin for talking about “voter integrity,” the Youngkin campaign has provided footage of McAuliffe repeatedly claiming the 2000 presidential election was stolen. But McAuliffe’s biggest woes may come from Catholics energized by the Catholic McAuliffe’s continuing deeply anti-Catholic assaults on pro-life and religious liberty issues. Virginia Catholics are starting to speak out. If Virginia’s two bishops do break their silence, the cloudy situation may turn into a storm.
McAuliffe is no stranger to both the criticism and, less often, the praise of his fellow Catholics. In 2002 Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights implored the then-DNC Chair to remove Catholics for a Free Choice from the Democratic Party’s “links of interest” page since the pro-abortion front group was the only Catholic group linked. It was no surprise because the Democratic pol has been publicly pro-abortion for his entire career, a position that got him banned from speaking to his own Catholic high school alma mater in Syracuse, New York, and also rejected in his application to join the Knights of Malta, an international Catholic charitable organization. The order replied that “there is not a single possibility for Mr. Terry McAuliffe, to become a member of the Order of Malta.”
As Governor of Virginia he drew direct fire from the two Catholic bishops of the state. In January 2017 the bishops criticized then-Governor McAuliffe for vetoing HB 2264, a measure that would have defunded Planned Parenthood and reallocated these funds to community health centers designed to provide primary care for women and children. McAuliffe didn’t even pretend to be “personally opposed” but instead signed his veto surrounded by cheering Planned Parenthood supporters. As the bishops forthrightly stated: “The Conference finds Gov. McAuliffe’s pride in protecting an organization that destroys life and harms women and their families deeply offensive.”
In April 2017 the two bishops praised McAuliffe for commuting the sentence of Ivan Teleguz, who had received the death penalty for his conviction on charges of hiring two men to kill his ex-girlfriend. But the very next month the bishops criticized him again when McAuliffe vetoed HB 2025, which would have protected clergy and religious organizations from state sanctions for upholding teachings on marriage. “The bill merely sought,” they argued, “to preserve fair access to public resources—like tax exempt status, contracts, grants and licensure – for religious charities and schools that hold to their longstanding belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
It is not just the long-ago past that is hurting McAuliffe with Catholics who are paying attention to the race. At the beginning of his own candidacy last year he attacked Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett after her confirmation, telling a Virginia CBS affiliate, “This entire confirmation process has been a sham aimed at ripping Americans’ access to health care away from them in the middle of a pandemic. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have done everything they can—from breaking with precedent to violating their own rules—just to ram this partisan nomination through to achieve their long standing goals of striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and reversing Roe v Wade.” (This was positively mellow compared to his tweet on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, which he said would “threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come and. . .morph our Supreme Court into a political arm of the right-wing Republican Party.”)
In interviews with Jewish Insider his record on “reproductive rights” is one of two aspects of his first term as governor he touts. His current campaigning with Governor Ralph Northam and bragging about Northam’s endorsement has not only brought up Northam’s blackface controversy and his own flip-flopping, but also Northam’s steadfast support of partial-birth abortion legislation in 2019. Though that bill failed, Bishop Paul Burbidge of Arlington lamented that what was most disturbing were Governor Northam’s own words about the legislation, which hinted that abortion—or at least allowing the baby to die—was acceptable even after birth: “In a staggering admission, Governor Northam stated that after an infant is delivered, the mother and the family should keep the baby comfortable, resuscitate the child ‘if that’s what the mother and the family desired,’ and ‘a discussion would ensue.’” The next year Northam signed legislation that, as Bishops Burbidge and Knestout observed, “repeals health and safety protections at abortion facilities, allows non-physicians to perform first-trimester abortions, and removes essential informed consent requirements, including the opportunity to view an ultrasound.”
McAuliffe’s career is categorical in his support of abortion and his opposition to religious liberty. He has never apologized for any of it. He became truculent with Hugh Hewitt in a 2007 interview about his memoir when the radio host asked him about his record: “I wish I could follow 100 percent the teachings of the Catholic Church, but believe it or not, much to your chagrin, I am not Jesus Christ.” When Hewitt asked if Catholic teaching on abortion was optional, McAuliffe refused to answer and retorted, “Hey, listen, I have my views on my religious beliefs, Hugh, you’ve got yours.”
McAuliffe’s problems are not limited to the aforementioned particular bills and issues concerning abortion and religious liberty. His problems are the same as the national Democratic Party, which continues to support the persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor (highlighted by their HHS Secretary, Xavier Becerra, who as California Attorney General spearheaded a nationwide legal effort against the nuns) and also the positions taken by Democrats pointed out in this ad. The Senate leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Schumer and then-Senator Kamala Harris have held that Catholic views disqualify Americans from holding high office. Lest anyone think this is just partisan overreaction, these views expressed by Democratic Senators brought spontaneous protests by the presidents of Princeton, Notre Dame, and the Anti-Defamation League. Even the Harvard Law Review recorded shock at these attacks because they violate Article VI of the Constitution, which forbids religious tests for office. What is astonishing about this is the failure of GOP campaign consultants to understand the power of this issue. The party of immigrant Catholics that nominated both the first Catholic nominee for president, Al Smith, and the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, has become the most hostile political force opposing Catholics in the country. Were McAuliffe ever confronted with this range of anti-Catholic issues, he would not only face an insurmountable problem with Catholics in the state—and Hispanics in Fairfax County, whom Democrats desperately need, have a memory of religious persecution in their birth countries—but also many Virginians who pride themselves on their own history of religious liberty will rise up.
Many Catholics in the pews are starting to object. Sources in Virginia indicate that some parish priests are also beginning to speak out from the pulpit about McAuliffe’s views, but neither Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond nor Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington have said anything despite McAuliffe’s pitch for another term of more of the same. Catholic bishops do not, as a rule, endorse candidates, but it might be the time for the bishops to speak up about McAuliffe’s past record on abortion and religious liberty—and note that McAuliffe is planning more of the same.
If those bishops speak up, it would not just be encouraging for Catholics and religious believers—and perhaps a game changer for the Catholic Church’s public witness in the Commonwealth.
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.