Why Dianne Feinstein’s Approach to Amy Barrett Threatens Latinas

Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Barrett was recently confirmed by the US Senate as a judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This confirmation, however, did not draw as many headlines as her contentious confirmation hearing.

When Dianne Feinstein questioned Barrett’s qualifications during her Senate confirmation hearing, something gave her “a very uncomfortable feeling.” She believed Barrett’s religious beliefs posed a threat both to her and the country as a whole.

Public discourse surrounding the hearing largely centered on whether or not Feinstein committed a legal faux pas by imposing a religious litmus test. However, I would suggest that Feinstein’s line of questioning has also created a dangerous precedent that may open the door to increased discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or sex.

But wait a second, you might counter—Amy Barrett is white; Senator Feinstein is white. Both are women–where am I going with this and why does everything have to be about race?! I bring this up because Amy Barrett and Dianne Feinstein do not represent or speak for a large number of women in the US, past or present.

Latino Americans make up the largest minority group in the US, and while religious diversity certainly exists within that group, a majority still claim that religious beliefs are important to them and a majority of those continue to identify as Catholic. For generations, many of us have found a way to integrate our faith and left-of-center political views, likely because of the history, culture, and political legacies of the countries our ancestors called home.

Many of these people are women–they are women of color. A precedent of silencing or rejecting a person based on their perceived religious views gives people with racist or sexist inclinations and biases—even implicit biases—an easy road to follow.  “She’s Catholic–she will undermine so much that we’ve worked for,” can easily become a path for denying Latina women positions of power and preserving racial and gender imbalances in influence and power.

Given the Catholics who currently dominate political power and media influence in the US and claim to speak on our behalf, Feinstein’s caution against confirming Amy Barrett is not a clear sign of anti-Catholic bigotry. But it does echo the tactics of past movements that have sought to suppress immigrant Catholic groups and their beliefs in the name of protecting America.

She told people like me that she will determine if I’m worthy of having a voice in her party or if I should stay quiet and just provide her a vote. Her approach threatens where I can and can’t work; what I can and can’t think; who I can and can’t be. If I, and my family, are really American or not. For a feminist who claims she values the contribution of my family to this country, this is pretty ironic.

Desiree Garcia works as a designer in the tech industry, a job that provides more insight into our faith than you may think.

The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe and Its Lessons for Today: An Interview with Daniel K. Williams

What was the pro-life movement like before Roe v. Wade? In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams, history professor at the University of West Georgia, provides an essential overview of the pro-life movement in this period. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Williams on his groundbreaking book and its implications:

The pro-life movement is often associated with conservatism, but could you talk a little bit about the roots of the movement?

The modern American pro-life movement, which originated in the mid-twentieth century, was the creation of Catholic Democrats, most of whom subscribed to the social ethic and liberal political philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  They believed that the government had a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities and provide a social safety net for the poor.  They viewed the unborn as a minority deserving of legal protection, but many of them also believed that the federal government had a responsibility to provide maternity health care for women facing crisis pregnancies.  In their view, the pro-life movement was a social justice and human rights cause. Read More

Christians Must Reshape How our Culture Views Poverty and the Poor

This talk was given October 1st 2017, at St. Luke’s Parish in Darien, Connecticut, as part of an ongoing speaker series about finding Christ.

Our savior was poor. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”It is hard, now, to hear just how radical that is. The din of time has mellowed the force of the fact. A different challenge presented itself to Christianity’s early preachers and practitioners: Convincing others, and themselves, that such a thing were really possible, and that it mattered.

To focus on the Latin west, it is worth noting that the ancient Roman social imagination was not organized around poles of poverty and wealth, but rather citizenship versus barbarianism. This is not to say that there were no poor people in ancient Rome; there were, of course. But their poverty itself was not a major source of social concern. “Poverty, in itself, gave no entitlement,” according to historian Peter Brown, “those who received benefits from the wealthy received them not because they were poor but because they were citizens.”

Which is not to say the ancients held the poor in high esteem — a failure to focus on poverty per se did not imply an absence of stigma. On the contrary, an ancient Roman legal text off-handedly identified poor persons among those unworthy of presenting complaints in courts of law or giving testimony; but by the middle ages, Christian authors would modify this rule on the grounds that poverty itself wasn’t a moral failure, and wasn’t “a kind of crime.”

But to get to that point, the preachers of late antiquity were tasked with reshaping the imaginations of their hearers. For them, the poor had to be, in some sense, invented, and their poverty presented as a moral issue. People that these fledgling ancient Christians had seen for years in one way, they were now asked to see in a new and peculiar light. The sermons of late antiquity, a period roughly between the third and eighth centuries, right around the time that Christianity was gaining serious ground in terms of adherence, authority and civic attention, tell the story of this reinvention.

“The poor man seeks money and has it not; a man asks for bread, and your horse champs a gold bit under his teeth,” St. Ambrose of Milan wrote, “And precious ornaments delight you, although others do not have grain.” To the pre-Christian imagination this scenario might’ve landed as gauche or petty; it’s in poor taste, after all, to notice the humiliation of a fellow citizen and carry on without mercy. But Ambrose insisted that it was worse than impolite; it was morally wrong: “Mercy is indeed a part of justice, so that if you wish to give to the poor, this mercy is justice…since the Lord our God has willed this earth to be the common possession of all and its fruit to support all.” The poor, in other words, have a claim and a right to the fruits of the earth, because God gave the comfort of nature to all to hold in common. Ambrose’s notary and biographer Paulinus commended the bishop for his own indifference to riches, so, “like a lightly clad and unencumbered soldier, he might follow Christ the Lord, who, being rich, became poor for our sake.”

The preachers of late antiquity set themselves to work upending the reactive, negative notions that developed about the poor among a newly accountable upper class. “You are often idling at the theaters all day,” said St. John Chrysostom, “or in the council-chambers, or in useless conversation. You blame many — but you fail to consider yourself as ever doing anything evil or idle. And do you condemn this poor and miserable person who lives the whole day in entreaties, teas, and a thousand difficulties?” Chrysostom elsewhere argues that the great inheritances common to the aristocracy suggest there’s no more virtue in the acquisition of wealth than the collapse into poverty: At least a poor man living in poverty doesn’t deny others use of the land.

Christ, having been Himself poor, was believed to hold the earthly poor especially close to Himself — a strange thought to a culture more accustomed to thinking of Gods favoring heroes, great beauties and bold conquerors. Almsgiving, Ambrose wrote, can “make God your debtor by a kind of pious usury,” an admittedly unsettling notion to modern ears. But God was understood to consider alms given to the poor as a gift made to Himself, so dearly did He love them. Read More

Yes, You Can Regulate Evil: Why Catholics Should Support Stricter Gun Laws

“You can’t regulate evil.”  These words, spoken by Matt Bevin, the Governor of Kentucky, seem to resonate with so many Americans.  Horrific acts of brutal violence are the price we pay for living in a free society, or so people claim.

Nevertheless, as Catholics, we do not believe this, and our faith does not teach this.  The fatalistic attitude that bad things will happen because bad people exist fails to take into account the very purpose of laws.  The essence of law is to regulate and reduce bad behavior, in addition to directing citizens towards making good decisions.  Catholics believe that good laws can help to create better people.  Laws should point society towards the common good.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues that laws can do two things: first, the coercive power of laws can pressure or scare citizens into obeying rules, and second, laws can work to create more virtuous citizens.  Through this coercive element of law, even those who are the most vile and dangerous to society can be pushed in the direction of virtue.  By prohibiting the unethical behavior that citizens might engage in, laws teach citizens good and virtuous behavior.

While Aquinas points out that laws cannot aim to create a perfect society filled with citizens who possess all the virtues of goodness, laws should always be oriented towards creating a system that promotes the common good and welfare of society.  Obviously, Aquinas states, society cannot prohibit all vices; it would be impossible to do so.  Nevertheless, in order to promote the common good, laws need to prohibit the most egregious misdeeds that people are capable of committing.  These include laws against assault, murder, etc.  Violence perpetrated by guns clearly falls into this category.

The simple fact of the matter is that Catholics need to support stricter gun laws and restrictions on weapons. There is a culture of violence and death that is abetted by our excessively libertarian approach to guns. The absence of adequate regulations results in harmful, unethical behavior that can be reduced. There’s no way around this; if you are Catholic, then you need to be in favor of creating governmental policies that will reduce gun deaths.

Using law to promote virtue and goodness in people might sound far-fetched, but we only need to look to civil rights laws that promoted and protected the equality of women, ethnic and racial minorities, religious minorities, persons with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, and transgender persons to find real examples of this in action.  Various laws have helped to shift public opinion and have created a society that not only protects but also accepts and embraces people who were previously oppressed or ostracized. Bigotry, injustice, and inequality remain, but changes in law have dramatically shifted both behavior and attitudes in a positive direction.

Why should our attitude about guns be any different?  Why couldn’t well-designed laws and regulations on firearms help to create a more virtuous community?  The very point of law is to regulate evil and to convert those who might otherwise commit that evil. From a broad lens, it seems obvious that the United States has a great deal of room for improvement on this.

It is true that crafting legislation in this area is an incredibly complex issue in the US; and there does not need to be a “one size fits all” approach to regulating guns.  Aquinas makes the point that different communities might need different variations of the law to match the needs of the community.  We can do the same with guns.

Rural areas will likely need different rules and regulations than large cities, and areas with lots of hunters will need different laws than places where hunting is non-existent.  But this is the beauty of the American federal system.  Local, state, and the federal government can all engage in the policy making process to make laws that make sense for their area.

Given how pervasive gun violence is in this country, doing nothing is not an option.  If we take the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas seriously, then Catholics need to be on the front lines of this fight for better gun control.  To continue to throw our collective hands up in the air and to say “these thing happen” only further invites these things to happen.

Noah the Environmentalist: The Great Flood and Ecological Justice Today

The story of Noah and his ark is often one of the first biblical narratives children learn and one of those most widely-known by adults. With many Scripture stories being unapologetically anthropocentric, there is something endearing yet dramatic about the inclusion of every perfectly paired-up creature-couple in this perilous tale of survival. With the assurance that, thanks to Noah, every creation breathed into existence by God continues to live, we tend not to think much about the unfortunate members of each species who were left in the waters below the ark’s hull. Yet, when climatic phenomenon such as Hurricane Harvey hit, the plight of those caught in great floods surges to the forefront of our attention. Could this situation have been prevented? Who will save these worthy souls? How will life be restored to right relation after the water subsides? Can I help? The story of the Great Flood and Noah’s role throughout its unfolding suggest much for how humanity is called to act in response to today’s rapidly changing weather patterns and our own, increasingly prevalent, great floods.

The creation accounts of Genesis make known the human call to care for creation (Gen. 1:28). The story of the Great Flood (Gen. 6) clarifies exactly what that means and suggests the interconnected way in which human and non-human creation’s survival must be conceptualized. Anne M. Clifford writes:

God gives Noah a mission. He is to participate in God’s plan for the survival of living species. God instructs Noah to build a huge ark and directs, “Of all kinds of birds, of all kinds of beasts, two of each will come into the ark to stay alive” (Gen. 6:20). The species of the earth that were gathered included clean and unclean, domesticated and wild animals. Many of these animals were of no real use to the people. God’s directive makes the meaning of having dominion clear: Noah and his family are charged with seeing to the survival of the other living creatures (not only the ones of direct benefit to humans).

The survival of all creation is prioritized not because of any direct value or benefit it holds for us personally, but because each creation serves a purpose in God’s grand design and, furthermore, all creation is of God and deserves to live. God’s command to humans about their role in creation’s survival does not present a passive relationship, where we merely coexist, or even a relationship where we consciously refrain from destroying or harming non-human creation. What God’s command calls for is conscious, compassionate action on the part of humanity to see to the survival, livelihood, and flourishing of all.

It is difficult to deny that the rate at which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, sea water levels, and the earth’s temperature are rising are primarily due to the actions of humans. We know that irresponsible use and abuse of creation has ushered in much of the climate change and environmental degradation experienced today. Storms exist as part of the natural weather patterns on the planet, but warmer oceans produce stronger storms and heavier rains, which in turn increase flooding. “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted,” Pope Francis writes, by our attempt to dominate and control creation, by our insistence on consuming that which was not meant for our limitless use. He explains, “Responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature.” This requires looking beyond immediate and personal desires and considering how one’s choices affect the entirety of creation. It is good to aid those suffering in the wake of the storm, but it is better to prevent the storm in the first place by
(as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si) “respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator.” Just as on Noah’s ark, Clifford explains, “human survival and that of animals are intimately related (Gen 7:1-4).” Pope Francis is right: “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.” And neither does the world today.

In the biblical story of the Great Flood, Clifford notes, “we find God deeply grieved about the extent of the wickedness of human beings. Their sins result in an ecological disaster of worldwide proportions.” While the particular sins in question may differ, the underlying themes of the Scripture story and our current reality are the same. Act justly or bad things happen. This is not a divine threat, but the natural consequence of disregarding the rhythms and relationships designed by God. Acting in discordance with God’s will brings disaster; acting in accordance with God’s will brings abundant life.

Noah, in an example of right relationship between God, humanity, and non-human creation, is entrusted with all of creation’s care. This gives us direction and this gives us hope. Pope Francis tells us, “Although ‘the wickedness of man was great in the earth’ (Gen 6:5) . . . through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation…. All it takes is one good person to restore hope!” Imagine the significant impact that can be made by many of us collaborating together and cooperating with God.

On September 1st, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued the first ever Joint Message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation, a message that both states and reflects the necessity of working together to restore right relation among creation. Appealing to those in social, economic, cultural, and political positions of power expands their emphasis even beyond the context of theists. Creation care is an issue of universal importance from an ethical perspective. For believers, it is also an issue of salvation.

God designed creation in a way that allows it to survive, to grow, to adapt, to flourish! Human beings are a part of this sacred creation–arguably the only part that has acted in a way that disrupts the incredible design, but also, the only part that has the ability to make it right. With Noah as faithful environmentalist exemplar, we must strive to listen to God’s call in the face of rising storms today. The floods can be prevented and God calls each of us to participate in that mission.

Stephanie Clary will receive her MA in Systematic Theology from Catholic Theological Union as a Bernardin Scholar and currently serves as the Manager of Mission Outreach and Communication for the Diocese of Burlington and the Assistant Editor of Vermont Catholic.

Colin Kaepernick’s Opposition is an Act of Solidarity

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Colin Kaepernick—the very mention of his name elicits strong reactions from football fans. Last August, as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of ongoing police violence against black men and women around the country.  The decision sparked considerable controversy and has likely cost Kaepernick his football career.

Football season is now upon us, and while I do not intend to rehash all that has been written on the NFL protests, I must say that I find the knee jerk claim that the players protesting are unpatriotic disturbing.  In Christian ethics, opposition and political protest are important ways of participating in the common good. They are methods utilized by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, as well as, by the Solidarity movement in Poland. Catholic social thought (and St. John Paul II, in particular) understands opposition as an important component of solidarity.

In Poland, Karol Wojtyla actively opposed communism as a student leader, as a philosophy professor, and as Bishop of Krakow. He is famous for his support of the Solidarity movement as pope and his support of opposition to communism.  St. John Paul II’s understanding of participation and the role of opposition is crucial to understanding his theology of solidarity, as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (SRS 38).

He understood that solidarity required a delicate balance between accepting the duties and responsibilities imposed by the community and opposition to unjust forms of exclusion and oppression.

For John Paul II, solidarity does not exclude opposition; it can mandate it. In Toward a Philosophy of Praxis, Wojtyla explains:  “Experience with diverse forms of opposition . . . teaches that people who oppose do not wish to leave the community because of their opposition. They are searching for their own place in the community –they are searching for participation and such a definition of the common good that would permit them to participate more fully and effectively in the community” (49). Catholic social thought has long recognized racism as both a structure of sin and as intrinsically evil. Public opposition to unjust social structures should be seen as participation in the common good.

Professional athletes have long utilized athletic spaces to publicly oppose injustice.  If we examine Kaepernick’s own explanations of his protest, a clear commitment to his understanding of the common good emerges.  When asked why he was doing this, he replied, “People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

And how long did he plan to sit? His answer was clear, as long as the injustices persist;  “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

His protest is not a rejection of the community; it is a demand that the community be one of greater justice.  His protest, like the protests of many athletes before him, is an example of opposition in service of solidarity. The national anthem and flag are symbols of the community and, as such, are a logical locus for calling the nation to more fully live up to its highest ideals.  In the wake of white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, it should be evident to all that we still have considerable work to do in bringing about racial justice and dismantling white supremacy.

This preseason, Michael Bennett of the Seahawks, Marshawn Lynch of the Raiders, and a number of other players continued the protest begun by Kapaernick and others. On August 18, 80 current and former NYPD officers rallied in support of Kaepernick in Brooklyn. For his efforts, Kaepernick will be honored at the Smithsonian African-American History Museum as part of the Black Lives Matter exhibit.  As NFL owners and fans consider his future in football, it is worth noting that instead of seeing his actions as unpatriotic, according to St. John Paul II’s theology of solidarity, his opposition one genuine avenue for advancing the common good.

When I Drink

“Okay, mijo, make the number three with your fingers and hold them together.” My grandfather’s hard, gruff voice could cause a nine-year-old to quiver. “Place your fingers at the bottom of the glass, like this,” he guides my hand to do what he’s describing. The familiar smell of Old Spice and tobacco bookmarks this moment into my memory. “Pour whiskey into the glass; stop when you reach the top of your fingers. Add some ice. And some soda.” He takes a drink. He smacks his lips. He gives a satisfied smile. “Now you know how to mix a drink.”

I have a large extended family. A family that loves to eat, drink, dance, and party well past nightfall. And when the momentum of our gatherings moved late into the night, drink orders increased. As kids, my cousin Laura and I would play a game of pretend. We called it “restaurant.” We’d hang towels on our arms and carry trays in our hands.

“Grab me a beer,” someone would shout. “How ‘bout…(shaking the glass, sounds of ice indicating emptiness).” And off we’d go. Pulling off beer tabs and mixing drinks, mostly Jack and Cokes or Seven and Sevens.

Needless to say, I got real good at making these simple cocktails. And as I grew older I knew how to make them without the use of my fingers. By 16, I was no longer pretending. I could hold my own with my family.


It’s 2010 and I’m exploring the possibility of a priestly vocation. I live in Chicago and I’ve reached out to the Jesuits. I’ve been invited to attend a July 4th cookout at Loyola Chicago. Because I don’t know Jesuits very well I was told this is a great way to begin making myself familiar. Sounds perfectly legit. I start to get nervous.

I’m a bashful person, but once I warm up, I can be a social butterfly. The easiest way for me to move from shy to butterfly is to imbibe. So when I arrive, I locate the table with all the alcohol. I’m hoping for Jack and Coke or Seven and Seven. But, there’s only Canadian Club and Sprite. It’ll have to do. I mix. I take a swig. I feel less tense. I gulp what’s left. With a deep breath I exhale away the edge and mix another. Now I can sip and socialize.

I have a few of these drinks throughout the evening. More than a few. And I’m talking and laughing. All those insecure thoughts that run through my head are muted:

You are out of your league.

You don’t belong here.

No one likes you.

Luckily I know how to hold myself in proper decorum after having consumed several glasses of liquid courage. I scrunch my eyes, furrow my brow, and deliberately nod to make myself appear focused. I even make audible sounds like, “mhm” and “yes” and “oh,” to punctuate this effect. And just to be sure I’m balanced, I stand with my feet shoulder width apart, or find gentle support from a wall or table, especially when holding an overpoured rocks glass of whiskey soda.

I drink to let go of my timidity. When I’m restrained I remain quiet, observant, passive in my participation. Thanks to Canadian Club and Sprite at this July 4th celebration – crowded with strangers – I’m uninhibited. I’m no longer reticent in how I participate in conversations. I’m actively engaging discussions. On this particular festive day I achieve my goal.


Prior to my Jesuit life I managed where I went and who I met. Self-doubt, deficient self-confidence, and anxiety lacked ample opportunity to reveal themselves. But if they did I never felt compelled to acknowledge them. Choosing to rely on the dependable drinks of my family I could pretend my way through anything. Exactly as I did on that particular 4th of July.

Now I do things I would never independently choose to do – like return to school to study philosophy. And it seems as if I attend large social events constantly. All of it an invitation to step out of my comfort zone. I meet these experiences with enthusiasm and joy, but the fervor I feel clashes with an intense disquiet. So I mix some familial drinks and cope. Which isn’t healthy. And mixing insecurities with whiskey has occasionally roused friction between me and people I love. The fun I found in drinking is diminishing.

To pray about my consumption of alcohol is to wrestle with deep unresolved pain and hurt. I no longer want a crutch in self-perceived uncomfortable situations. Through therapy and a stable prayer life I have grown, but there remains more work to be done. After some 20 years of drinking it’s a little sobering to face the reality I may need a change. Perhaps it’s time to stop. Perhaps it’s time to discover new ways to have fun. Perhaps it’s time to grow up. No matter how this self-examination unfolds, it is clear God walks with me. No more pretending. It’s time to mix a new recipe for being me.

This article by Damian Torres-Botello, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.