WASHINGTON, D.C.– Although both major 2016 vice presidential nominees were raised Catholic and still profess to be Christians, their public policy records have drawn concern from some members of the faithful.
The “free exercise” of religion “is not simply about what you do in Church on Sunday morning,” Deacon Keith Fournier of the Common Good initiative told CNA. “It’s how you exercise that faith in every sector, whether it’s commerce, politics, participation – all of it.”
Both major nominees for vice president are baptized Catholics. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine still identifies as a Catholic, and was seen at Sunday Mass on July 24 after he was picked by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to be her running mate.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence, meanwhile, was raised Catholic but identified in 1994 as a “born-again, evangelical Catholic.” He started attending an evangelical megachurch with his family in the 1990s. It is unclear which church Pence attends now.
“I’m a pretty ordinary Christian,” freelance journalist Craig Fehrman reported him saying. Pence told the audience at the Republican National Convention that he was a “Christian, conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”
Kaine is a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in the diocese of Richmond, Va. In his July 27 speech at the Democratic National Convention, he recalled his Jesuit education at Rockhurst High School where the motto was “men for others,” and spoke of his year of missionary work in Honduras with Jesuits.
Both Pence and Kaine have drawn controversy for their public policy positions.
While Kaine has said he’s “personally opposed” to abortion, he has received a 100 percent rating in 2016 from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the nation’s largest abortion provider, and a perfect rating in 2015 from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
More recently, it was reported that he privately told Hillary Clinton that he would support overturning the Hyde Amendment, a 40 year-old policy that prevents federal dollars from directly funding most abortions.
Just before Pope Francis’ U.S. visit last September, Kaine voted against bringing a 20-week abortion ban to a vote on the Senate floor. He explained his vote:
“Because it violates the 14th Amendment and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent, I voted against it. Nothing in my Catholic faith suggests that I should support legislation that violates the Constitution. In fact, I take an oath as a Senator to support the Constitution, ‘so help me God.’”
He added that he would “truly listen” to Pope Francis during his visit, “instead of using the papal visit as just another political opportunity” as he accused the Senate Republicans of doing in trying to bring the bill to a vote.
After the pope addressed the joint meeting of Congress, the senator noted how Pope Francis set “high expectations” for the members “because he can look into our history and culture and see these examples that have been really powerful, and that there isn’t any reason we can’t rise to that same level of achievement today – whether it’s tackling climate change or economic injustice or the migrant crisis that is seen throughout the world.”
As Governor of Virginia, Kaine also personally opposed the death penalty, but his term saw 11 executions with only one commuted death sentence, the New York Times reported.
Shortly after the announcement of Kaine’s candidacy, Bishop Thomas DiLorenzo of Richmond issued a statement saying, “The Catholic Church makes its position very clear as it pertains to the protection of human life, social justice initiatives, and the importance of family life.”
“From the very beginning, Catholic teaching informs us that every human life is sacred from conception until natural death. The right to life is a fundamental, human right for the unborn and any law denying the unborn the right to life is unequivocally unjust.”
A Catholic cannot be “personally opposed” to abortion while allowing its public practice, Fournier told CNA.
Because “the dignity of every human person” is the “most important” part of public policy, he continued, to support the taking of innocent life in the womb is a gravely wrong position that undermines all other areas of public policy.
“If we do not recognize the dignity of every human life, everything else falls,” he said. “The entire structure of human rights falls.”
“It’s the very reason why we care for the poor and the needy and the migrant, and people in prison cells,” he continued.
“It’s the very reason that we care for all of these horrible divisions that are beginning to once again manifest themselves in our midst, when we’re seeing people as less than us and less than others, or using them as products and instruments rather than receiving them as gifts,” Fournier said.
Christina Healy, a student at Case Western School of Medicine who works with the pro-life group Life Matters Journal, told CNA that when evaluated through the lens of a “consistent-life ethic,” Kaine misses the mark as a vice presidential candidate.
“Tim Kaine likes to claim that he is Catholic, that he’s a devout Catholic at that,” she said. “But I think that it’s very anti-Catholic to not be in favor of and live out the consistent life ethic.”
“He says that he is personally pro-life. I think is a very poor excuse to try to gain some pro-life voters. It’s not going to work on me. I don’t think it’s going to work on very many people,” she added.
Pence, meanwhile, had a strong pro-life record as a congressman, having a 100 percent rating from the group National Right to Life for almost his entire time in Washington. Multiple pro-life leaders hailed his vice presidential candidacy, especially after they publicly expressed their reservations about GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“Gov. Pence has proven to be a pro-life champion both during his time in Congress and as Governor of Indiana,” Marjorie Dannelfelser, head of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, stated of Pence being chosen for the vice presidential slot. “Mike Pence is a pro-life trailblazer, and Mr. Trump could not have made a better choice.”
Pence has strongly supported traditional marriage – he favored passage of a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Last year, however, his initial support of – and subsequent amendment to – Indiana’s religious freedom law drew the ire of both liberals and conservatives.
Indiana’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would have established legal protections for all those who conscientiously support traditional marriage and wish to live out their beliefs: a baker would not be hit with a discrimination lawsuit for respectfully declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding out of conscience, for example.
After a national uproar over the law’s perceived intolerance, Pence signed an amended version, one that Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation argued effectively gutted religious freedom protections for entities other than non-profits. In conflicts involving sexual orientation and gender identity, the law only protected non-profits and their extensions.
As governor, Pence stated his public support for the death penalty in a 2014 interview, saying that “justice demands it in our most heinous cases.”
Pence also had a public disagreement with the Archbishop of Indianapolis Joseph Tobin last fall, over the archdiocese’s role in resettling Syrian refugees.
After it was alleged that a terrorist posing as a Syrian refugee was responsible in part for the Paris terror attacks last November, the governor asked for a temporary halt to resettlement programs in the state for Syrians.
Before he met with Pence to discuss the matter a few weeks later, Tobin asked Catholic Charities to resettle a Syrian refugee family in Indiana.
“Three years ago, this family fled the violence of terrorists in their homeland of Syria. After two years of extensive security checks and personal interviews, the United States government approved them to enter our country,” the archbishop stated of the refugee family.
“For 40 years the archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition,” he continued.
After the meeting, Pence’s office responded that the governor “respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time.” The dispute between the governor and the archbishop drew significant media attention in the days that followed.
Pence’s disagreement with Tobin – as well as with Kaine’s support for abortion – reveal the tension behind living one’s faith out in public service, suggested Robert Christian, editor of Millennial journal.
“Both Mike Pence and Tim Kaine seem to be very sincere Christian believers,” he said.
“Pence identifies as a ‘Christian first’ and we see that in his strong commitment to the protection of unborn life, but it is hard to see how this translates into his hard-line stance against resettling Syrian refugees, his libertarian economic views, and comfort with a death penalty system that is grossly unjust.”
“Tim Kaine speaks very powerfully about how his faith shapes his commitment to social justice and we see it on issues like healthcare, protecting the environment, and civil rights,” Christian added.
However, Kaine’s support for legal abortion “is really disconnected from his overall approach to faith in public life and a clear demonstration of the pressure to conform with party orthodoxy, which is shaped by the powerful donor class in each party.”