Judge Barrett nomination fight leaves progressive Catholics feeling unseen

Alejandra Molina/Religion News Service | 10/15/2020, 6 p.m.
Elizabeth Ajiduah took to Twitter in late September, ask- ing progressive and LGBTQ- friendly Catholics to come forward.

LOS ANGELES - Elizabeth Ajiduah took to Twitter in late September, ask- ing progressive and LGBTQ- friendly Catholics to come forward.

It was four days after President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. The national conversation quickly focused on Judge Bar- rett’s ties to People of Praise, a charismatic Christian reli- gious group that holds men are divinely ordained as the “head” of the family and faith. Conservative Christians and anti-abortion activists praised Judge Barrett’s nomination as a win.

Ms. Ajiduah, a 17-year-old Black Catholic, felt that her kind of Catholic was being overlooked. She was shocked and comforted when thousands who felt similarly unseen and misrepresented engaged with her tweet. Trans, Latino and Black Catholics connected from Chicago, the District of Columbia, California and as far away as Australia.

“I was just trying to figure out how I can be a Catholic in leftist sort of spaces,” said Ms. Ajiduah. “There are a ton of people who are in my same situation. It felt really nice.”

This week’s Senate hearings may have the effect of centering Judge Barrett’s conservative Catholicism, which is strongly anti-abortion and opposed to same-sex marriage, as the “true Catholicism.” That’s a notion that Dr. Daisy Vargas, a University of Arizona professor who specializes in Catholicism in the Americas, said erases the “diversity of Catholic communities and their experiences.”

For Dr. Vargas, there is nothing abnormal about being pro-choice, for instance, and a practicing Catholic. She points to former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and “almost half of all U.S. Catholics” who support a woman’s right to choose.

Characterizing those who are anti-LGBTQ, against abortion and who lean conservative as the definition of Catholicism promotes a model of Catholicism that is largely white and excludes Black, Latino, Asian American and other “minoritized” Catholic communities in the United States, Dr. Vargas said.

Victor Narro, project director for the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and 1991 graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law, calls the teachings of the Catholic Church “breathing documents” that should be changed “based on what’s being embraced in society today.”

Mr. Narro, a Catholic, believes in abortion rights and that women and LGBTQ people should be able to become Catholic priests. Celibacy, he said, has become an issue that doesn’t match reality.

Mr. Narro said all Catholics have a right to call on the church to revise doctrines that the Vatican stresses must be complied with in order to be a “good Catholic.”

“I don’t feel Catholic guilt because I think it’s very sacred for a woman to choose for her own body,” he said. “I don’t think the Catholic Church ought to condemn me because I believe in a woman’s right to choose.”

Mr. Narro identifies as a spiritual Catholic whose faith isn’t connected to the Catholic institution.

Ms. Ajiduah said she’s inspired to remain in the faith “to figure out how Christianity should be or how it can be.”

Catholicism helped her family in Nigeria, where the church offered schools and social services that the state failed to regularly provide.

“It’s not a religion that should be used for imperialism,” Ms. Ajiduah said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.