Earlier this month, I thought Notre Dame was being clueless when it chose this year to honor Vice President Joseph Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner. The Catholic men both received Notre Dame's Laetare Medal for their "leadership, civility and dedication to the nation." Catholic commentator Christopher J. Hale has gone overboard in his praise of Notre Dame's gesture, even interviewing the two men for Time Magazine, extolling the power of their shared Catholic faith to transcend partisan divides.
Oh, please. The timing was all wrong for Biden. The recently released HBO film, Confirmation, reminds us that he failed to give Anita Hill the chance to prove her charges of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Biden's good deeds and leadership on the Violence Against Women Act may have qualified him for the Laetare Medal in any other year, when Anita Hill wasn't so fresh in our minds. But Boehner? It's difficult to find many reasons to honor his legislative record. As Speaker, Boehner questioned whether human activity causes climate change. He presided over a House that cut budgets for the poor and vulnerable, while strategizing with the very corporate lobbyists whom Pope Francis chastises.
The mainstream media appears to have a love affair with Hale, a twenty-something Catholic man who has decided that he speaks not only for all Catholic millennials, but for all Catholics. He pops up all over, in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Time Magazine, and opines for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.
He's a graduate of a Jesuit college, who worked on Catholic outreach for the Obama campaign. He also co-founded on online publication, Millennial Journal, whose target audience is young Catholics. But his main claim to media credibility appears to be his position as executive director of the group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG).
The group, begun around 2005, has always had strong ties to Democrats. It was initially a nonprofit with tax-exempt status. But the IRS revoked that status in 2013 after the group failed to file the appropriate reports over the course of three years. The group is progressive on most issues, but also strongly opposes abortion.
So whom, exactly, does Hale represent? It seems not to matter. As a self-declared "traditionalist" Catholic, he has no compunction about expressing his views on a wide range of issues. Unfortunately, his views seem steeped in a misogyny equal to his apparent zeal for social justice.
In July 2015, just days after an anti-choice group released a video purporting to show a Planned Parenthood official discussing the sale of fetal tissue, Hale questioned why progressive Democrats had not gone on the attack over the secretly taped and edited video which would soon be widely discredited. Hale asked: "Who will speak truth to the rich and powerful and denounce Planned Parenthood's participation and leadership in this throwaway culture and an economy that debases, excludes, and kills?"
Given that access to contraception would be the best way to reduce abortions, why didn't Hale show the same anger with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposed the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, and refused an Administration offer to provide access to birth control through a third party? Instead, Hale has lamented the lack of "creativity" that could have found some sort of middle ground.
When Pope Francis signaled some interest in studying the ordination of women to the deaconate, Hale supported women as deacons, while assuring his readers that the diaconate would not lead to the "slippery slope" of ordaining women to the priesthood. "Deacons aren't 'mini-priests', he insisted. Clearly, the job of deacon, without any power or any opportunity for advancement, would be right for a woman.
I am a Catholic journalist who has spent the past four years interviewing exceptional Catholic women. My book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope, will be published in September.
Unlike Hale, I don't presume to speak for all Catholics, or even all Catholic women. The Catholic women I've interviewed do not align with Hale's views. Nor does social science research on Catholics.
Catholic women, particularly younger women, are increasingly estranged from the church. In 1987, nearly sixty percent of Catholic women ranked their Catholicism among the most important facets in their life. By 2011, only about a third of Catholic women - 35 percent - placed that premium on their faith.
Many Catholic women have grown angry with the church over its rigid stance on sexual issues, and its refusal to recognize women's equality with men.
One Latina theologian I profiled lamented that the church was able to construct a nuanced position on the ethical dynamics of a just war, but not on abortion. "I want to at least ask the question. Are there occasions when abortion is ethical?" she said, frustrated by the church's shutting the door on theological discussions of issues related to sexual morality.
The women I interviewed are so beyond the deacon question. I have not met a Catholic woman who believes that chromosomes should determine one's fitness for the priesthood. A brilliant psychotherapist and former nun who attends daily Mass was incensed that a high-ranking diocesan official contended that since only men were present at the Last Supper, only men could be priests. "All of them [the apostles] were Jews. Did Jesus intend that priests had to be Jews? ... It's so stupid, you can hardly believe it. ... There it is," she said. "Clarity on the clericalism and the misogyny. Absolutely gratuitous."
Christopher Hale certainly has a right to state his opinion. But he should not be the go-to person for Catholic viewpoints. He does not speak for me, and I would venture to say, he cannot speak for Catholic women.