Five Catholic justices, control Supreme Court vote on fractious abortion decision

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I grew up Catholic, so I know something about the ancient faith’s hammerlock absolutism, especially regarding anything even remotely sexual.

That’s why I immediately thought of sexuality when I learned along with everyone else this week about the “leaked draft opinion” of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in a case that threatens now-legal abortion nationwide and the Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that originally decriminalized the practice.

To an astonishing degree, considering the Reformation happened over 500 years ago, the structure still prevailing inside the [Roman Catholic] Church teaches Catholics to be obedient to a hierarchy of men.

Terry langston, the globalist

I thought of sexuality because 6 of the 9 current Supreme Court justices today, or 66%, are Catholic—77% if you also count Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but now worships with his wife at a closely-Catholic Episcopal church. And, having grown up in Catholicism, I understand how the Church demonizes all carnal activities outside marriage and strictly prohibits any resulting actions—i.e., abortion—that do not lead inexorably to birth.

This is part of the baggage I strongly suspect they still carry as adults from their upbringing in the so-called “one true church.” And, unlike my now unbelieving self, all of the Court’s Catholic justices reportedly remain staunch believers in their creed and, thus, are likely far more amenable than myself to its dogmas.

A Supreme Court justice and People of Praise

For example, Supreme Court then-nominee (now Justice) Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative and devout Roman Catholic, reportedly belongs to a reactionary, paternalistic Church group—some have characterized it as a cult—known as People of Praise (POP). POP members told Newsweek in 2020 that the group’s leaders “dictate almost every aspect of members’ lives, including who they marry and how they raise their children” and that female members are expected to be “absolutely obedient to their husbands and the men in the group.”

These are the kinds of mindsets that can be seen directly stemming from conservative religiosity.

Five of the unadulterated Catholic justices now on the Court, plus Gorsuch, comprise the Court’s 6-3 conservative, manifestly Roe-unfriendly majority. All certainly are acutely aware of their church’s very long-standing staunch opposition to abortion at any stage of gestation, not to mention birth control. In addition to Alito, this group includes Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch clearly told senators during their nomination hearings that they considered Roe v Wade “settled law” and a major Court precedent, and assured their questioners that they acceded to the rule of law. Barrett has been more obscure in her public comments on abortion, including during her Senate hearing. But she has said she doesn’t see Roe being overturned in the near future but abortion restrictions increasing.

Did high court nominees dissemble about abortion?

After the leaked abortion opinion became public, some members of Congress expressed concern that particularly Kavanaugh and Gorsuch may have been somewhat disingenuous in their responses concerning abortion before the Senate confirmation committee and also privately to senators

This concern stems partly from President Donald Trump’s repeated declaration that all his judicial nominees were picked specifically because he and his judicial advisers believed they, once on the bench, would vote to overturn Roe. The list of appropriate nominees was hand-picked for Trump by the ultra-conservative Federalist Society.

The only other Catholic justice is Sonya Sotomayor, who joins two Jews—Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer—on the Court “wing” considered more liberal and progressive.

Until recently, a paucity of Catholics on the Court

Interestingly, while only 13 of 114 justices (11.4%) have been Catholic throughout the Court’s long history, Catholics have dominated the Court since 2006, when Alito was confirmed, as they still do now, according to a 2021 article in The Globalist. Seven of eight Republican appointees since 1986 have been Catholic or, like Neil Gorsuch, raised Catholic, although only 20 percent of the U.S. populace identifies as Catholic.

If the newly leaked “draft opinion” ultimately turns out to be the Court’s majority opinion, abortion thereafter would be potentially criminalized across the country for countless millions of American women. The final decision on whether or not abortion is legal would then be left up to not the federal Supreme Court but to elected lawmakers in each state.

Twenty-three states have already indicated they would make abortion illegal in a heartbeat if they could, and some have “trigger laws” against abortion that will automatically activate if the highest court strikes down Roe.

I don’t want to overstate my sense that the dogma of ancient Catholicism, including about human sexuality and reproduction, lives far louder within Catholic justices than within me. Individuals, even from the same or similar backgrounds, can perceive things differently. But it’s a fair concern. It’s especially concerning considering that, literally, the ghosts of faith may be unconsciously influencing Supreme Court decisions about the most personal, intimate decisions in Americans’ lives.

But faith is relentlessly intractable in human experience, as Terri Langston alluded to in a 2021 article in The Globalist:

“To an astonishing degree, considering that this is the 21st century and that the Reformation happened over 500 years ago, the structure still prevailing inside the [Roman Catholic] Church teaches Catholics to be obedient to a hierarchy of men.

“These, often elderly, men, from the local priest to the Pope, have major influence on people’s lives and life choice.”

Do the Supreme Court Justices believe in God?

We should not forget that these august Supreme Court jurists, counted among not only the intellectual elite of modern times but of American history, worship not at the crucible of objective reality, although they would surely insist they do, but ultimately at the altar of an invisible male divine who supposedly lives beyond the sky and controls the universe, including us.

And this omnipotent deity, we are instructed by Catholic theologians, views human sexuality in all its forms and potentials as an ominous threat to salvation that must be ruthlessly controlled.

Consider this memorable quote from late Justice Antonin Scalia on religious belief:

“One can be sophisticated and believe in God. Reason and intellect are not to be laid aside where matters of religion are concerned.”

Even Protestant firebrand Martin Luther, the catalyst for the medieval Reformation, would have disagreed with him. Luther famously called reason “the Devil’s greatest whore”—a supposedly bogus capacity in his view that seduces people into thinking they can disprove or question divinity through logic.

Historical Catholic thinkers, like St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), for their part, attempted but failed to scholastically meld Aristotelian logic into Catholic dogma, because newly rediscovered Greek philosophy was in vogue at the time.

But the exceedingly dense, minutely argued prose they produced, particularly Aquinas’, was so rhetorically overwraught as to be largely indecipherable.

All one need do is read a little of St. Augustine of Hippo’s (354-430) virulent, misogynist sermonizingConfessions, City of God, etc.—and you can understand why sexuality and abortion have been corrupted into the frightful “culture wars” bogeymen they are in America today.

And our Supreme Court’s Catholic justices today are the presumed inheritors of the age-old but still unverifiable and fantastical assumptions of these lions of the Catholic canon.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...