Justice Anthony Kennedy: Poster-Boy for Failed Catechesis?

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When the history of the triumph of “gay marriage” is one day written, one of its heroes will be a lifelong Roman Catholic and product of Catholic education: Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s undermining of the Defense of Marriage Act and the institution of marriage in America.

Kennedy’s opinion was summarized by Justice Antonin Scalia, another lifelong Catholic, but one faithful to the Church’s ancient teachings on marriage. As Scalia put it, Kennedy and his majority resorted to calling opponents of gay marriage “enemies of the human race.” To the contrary, said Scalia, “to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements.”

As Scalia noted, the Defense of Marriage Act “did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed … for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it [as] … enemies of the human race.”

Justice Scalia is exactly right.

Anthony KennedyBut what of Justice Kennedy? Where and how did he acquire his stereotypical, demeaning, and quite bigoted view of those who support marriage as it has always been?

Does Anthony Kennedy attend Mass? I ask because Kennedy seems to not know, or at least be perplexed by, opponents of gay marriage. How could that be? Does he not have a priest, Religious Ed director, fellow parishioners? Or does every single one of them endorse gay marriage?

This is bizarre. Justice Kennedy’s position is bizarre.

How does a lifelong Roman Catholic come to this position, and then, by extension, inflict so much damage not merely on the culture but upon those of us in his Church (and elsewhere) simply supporting marriage as it has been since the dawn of humanity?

Or, perhaps Justice Anthony Kennedy is merely a poster-boy for the Catholic Church’s inability to catechize its own members.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • Deacon Jim Mann

    Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he does.

  • Laura

    God gave all human beings freewill to choose evil over good. No one, not even God can control another person’s freewill. If adults choose evil over good, as adults, it is no one’s fault other than the adult who freely chose to do evil. No amount of good examples or education about the faith can control a person’s freewill. I respectfully disagree that it is anyone’s fault that this judge chose to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. He alone will be accountable for his actions at his judgement.

  • Laura

    It wasn’t Jesus’ fault when Judas chose evil and betrayed him. Christ did not accept the responsibility for Judas’ actions and neither should we when it comes to adults who betray the faith they were raised by.

  • Jeanette Burney

    Kengor’s points are valid, even if uncomfortable for us to admit. For too many years, there has been a climate of dissent in the Church that has caused much confusion in the minds of Catholics about what the Church teaches about certain issues. The Church and Her leaders, Bishops and clergy, must accept responsibility for allowing this climate of dissent to persist. For instance, on this issue, a faithful Jesuit priest recently expressed his disappointment that another Jesuit spoke of the “inevitability of gay marriage.” That’s just wishful thinking on his part, of course, but it gives us an idea of the sad division which exists in the Church. When was the last time we heard a homily at Mass which condemned the evil of same-sex “marriage”? As a lifelong practicing Catholic, I’m still waiting. It’s entirely possible that Justice Kennedy doesn’t know what the Catholic Church teaches about same-sex “marriage” because this teaching has been rejected or ignored by those who’ve had the moral obligation to teach it. If that’s the case, Kennedy’s personal culpability is lessened.

    That said, every Catholic has the joyful obligation of knowing, loving and living the faith. It’s important for us to understand that, as Catholics, we need to be leading the culture, not following in its often depraved path. What we too often lack is the courage to bring the beautiful and saving message of the gospel to a waiting world!

  • Dessy12

    Dr. Kengor, As you’ve said in other columns, the clergy is not mentioning church doctrine in their homilies. This is why Catholics vote for pro-abortion, redefining marriage politicians. I’m sending a copy of your column to my pastor. Thank you.

  • pnyikos

    The quotations are so well chosen, I would love it if Dr. Kengor would post them on a forum where there are plenty of people with the same attitude as Justice Kennedy displayed — The National Catholic Reporter’s forum, where such people are in the overwhelming majority, springs to mind. — and report back to us on the reception that his comments elicit.

    I have “bearded the lions in their dens” in such ways many times, and my experiences have made me a much more effective adversary of such people when they show up in Catholic Exchange.

  • Jeanne Ballou

    I am appalled that such a denegrating and judgmental article as this would appear in a Catholic publication. This type of name-calling and holier-than-thou attitude will certainly dissuade Catholics from seeking positions in government. I really don’t think that’s what you want, but perhaps it is. Imagine the USA without Catholic politicians, jurists, or possibly presidents to kick around. Who will you go after then? Please try to accept the fact that public servants are supposed to be working for all of the people in this great country–not only the ones who happen to be Catholic. I also am offended that the writer assumes that gay marriage will damage the culture. Preposterous. Many believe that gay marriage will damage the sacramental institution of matrimony as well; but let me assure you that I have been heterosexual for all of my life and have been in one heterosexual marriage for close to half of my life, and gay marriage has done nothing to challenge or otherwise damage my sacramental marriage. We have many more serious issues to attend to including taking stands and effecting positive change regarding hunger, poverty, unjust wars, the state of education, gun control, corporate greed, etc., etc., etc.

  • jo

    I have waited for years to hear a homily that addressed any of our social problems. I keep praying and living with hope and faith. I am afraid, however, that our priests are just worried about losing their tax status. Perhaps when it is gone and it will be, our priests will then gain back their courage to be our pastoral shepherds.

  • No, we don’t have any more important issues than putting into practice the teachings of Jesus which are the entire Bible and God. God will not judge us by what we did in His name but what we REALLY are. Read the Bible.

  • Jeanne Ballou

    So I’m a bit confused here. Are you saying that you support the principles of Catholic Social Teaching or not?

  • Cincinnatus1775

    Of course same sex unions will not harm YOUR marriage; yours is well along. However, marriage and family as they have been understood from the beginning will be harmed for your grandchildren. They, and subsequent generations will inherit a society in which family has been radically undermined, to the detriment of children, who will grow up with none of the structure and support we had. The breakdown of family caused by no-fault divorce is instructive. We were told that would have no effect outside of the effected couples, too. In two generations we’ve reached the point where nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and fractured families abound. We were also told broken families would have no effect on the kids. That has turned out to be untrue.

  • pnyikos

    Ms. Ballou, you are exactly the kind of person I was referring to two days ago. As is usual with your kind, your charge of judgmentalism studiously ignores the fact that both Kengor and Scalia are writing precisely about the hideously judgmental attitude displayed in the Opinion of the Court. Hence I simply cannot take seriously your claim that you are “appalled” by the judgmentalism of the article.

    I also think the name-calling in the Opinion of the Court will do more to “dissuade Catholics from seeking positions in government” than the words of Dr. Kengor, but I hope neither will have much of an effect in that direction.

    In fairness to Justice Kennedy, I suspect that a good bit of the Opinion of the Court was masterminded by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just as the real mastermind behind the Opinion of the Court in Roe v. Wade was not its formal author, Harry Blackmun, but another Catholic victim of poor catechesis, Justice Brennan.

    Ginsburg has made it plain several times that her only objection to the outcome in Roe v. Wade was that it was too abrupt, and the public would not have been aroused if only the outcome could have been stretched over many years. The outcome in this first Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage seems to be following this idea to the letter.

    On the one hand, it is a very limited decision so as not to arouse too great a backlash, and on the other hand, it uses the hideously judgmental formula “enemies of the human race” to reassure supporters of same-sex marriage that they will eventually get everything they want from the Supreme Court.

  • DoughRemy

    Does “every single one of [Justice Kennedy’s] fellow parishioners endorse gay marriage?” No, but most of them probably do. So there is nothing at all “bizarre” about Justice Kennedy’s position. He is in the Catholic mainstream and Paul Kengor, the author of this article, is not.

    How does a life-long Catholic come to this position? Maybe it’s time to ask some fellow parishioners. They are the ones who helped legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, the most Catholic state in this country.

  • Jeanne Ballou

    My “kind”??? Maybe my “kind” of people don’t belong in the same Church as your kind. Does that sound about right? How does that square with your brand of catechesis?

  • Jeanne Ballou

    I am waiting . . .

  • Jeanne Ballou

    You have every right to your opinion. I happen to disagree. In fact, I think that in many types of circumstances, single-parent families can be just as happy, loving, and productive as your traditional families, some even more so.

  • pnyikos

    By “your kind” I simply meant those who concur with the Opinion of the Court in claiming that the laws meant to preserve traditional marriage have, as Scalia put it in the linked article, the purpose to “dis-
    parage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human
    beings, our fellow citizens, who are homo- sexual.

  • pnyikos

    By using the catchall term “single-parant families” you evade the issue of the great harm done by no-fault divorce, and you evade the points Cincinnatus raises about the alleged “no effect” of no-fault divorce and broken families.

    You try to argue that same-sex marriage will not do traditional marriage any harm. Would you say the same for polygamy if it also became permitted all through the USA?

    Don’t think polygamy is a separate issue: monogamous same-sex marriage discriminates against bisexuals just as much as traditional marriage discriminates against homosexuals — no more and no less.

  • pnyikos

    Do you seriously think the Catholic mainstream looks upon those who want to preserve traditional civil marriage as having the the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human
    beings, our fellow citizens, who are homo- sexual?

    The second half of the above paragraph is taken from the linked article on Scalia’s dissent.

  • DoughRemy

    Pnyikos, I think most Catholics in this country are good and generous people who value traditional marriage and understand that it is in no way threatened by same-sex marriage (SSM). Furthermore, I think that most of them, like Justice Kennedy, have seen through the various rationalizations that conservative religionists use to justify their opposition to SSM. We have seen these rationalizations change over the years as progressives chip away at them. The slippery slope argument has worn thin, as have the “dilution” and “civilizational crisis” memes. Natural law arguments haven’t worked, and neither has the “sex for procreation” imperative.

    Mainstream Catholics haven’t bought any of it, because more and more of them have “out” gay family members and friends for whom they wish all the best things in life. Slippery-slope arguments (and all the rest) just don’t hold up against those very real and very personal concerns.

    I think Justice Kennedy was right on the money. With historical perspective, we now recognize that southern racism was not really about any of the things that the racists claimed it was. It was about animus, prejudice, fear, and the desire to disparage and demean other people.

    Justice Kennedy understands much more about human psychology and anthropology than Justice Scalia. Scapegoating is as old as dirt and just as dirty. It’s a very complex phenomenon that, like Dracula, cannot stand the light of day. It always hides behind rationalizations that, when put under the light, are seen for what they are.

  • DoughRemy

    Pnyikos, why did you jump from same-sex marriage to polygamy? They are not the same or even comparable. Each one must be judged on its own merits. You say they are not different issues, but you didn’t explain why.

    And why would monogamous SSM discriminate against bisexuals? A bisexual can monogamously marry someone of the same sex. He or she simply agrees to be faithful to his or her spouse. Isn’t that the same as monogamous heterosexual couples do?

    Traditional marriage doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals. Traditional marriage is simply one kind of marriage, and SSM is another. It is states that allow citizens to discriminate. Not all people in traditional marriages want to discriminate against SSM.

    This is why conservative Catholics are losing this fight. Your arguments are not coherent, and they don’t hold up under scrutiny.

  • Cincinnatus1775

    Yes, we are all entitled to our opinions. However, we are not entitled to our own facts, and facts are stubborn things. It is a fact that nearly half of all marriages in the US now end in divorce. It is a fact that most of those marriages have children under the age of 18. It is a fact that the effect of divorce on the majority of children is overwhelmingly negative and follows them into adulthood (which is not to say some people can’t overcome it, only that it’s negative). It is a fact that children of divorce are more likely to divorce (or not marry at all). These are all facts that apply to the vast majority of divorce cases. Now, it is also a fact that in statistics you find cases that go against the norm — there are always a few cases under the skinny ends of the bell curve. However, the bulk of the observations, and the ones that are relevant when considering the effect of the breakdown of family on society, fall under the fat part of the curve.

    OK, so where does the above lead? Is it such a big deal for our society that more kids are growing up in unstable home situations? Well, “adult conduct in society is learned as a child” and most the important school of socialization is family. The pop culture “it takes a village” nonsense is precisely backward: it takes families to maintain a society. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (source of the above “adult conduct” quote) did a study of the African American family and concluded that “the relative absence of nuclear families (those with both a father and a mother present) would greatly hinder further progress toward economic and political equality.” At that time, 25% of African American children were born out of wedlock. The number is now 70-75% Nearly 50 years later any objective assessment of Moynihan’s conclusion would recognize he was correct.

    Would you like to hazard a guess where out of wedlock births stand in the white community now? …25% — right where the stats were for African American families in 1965. In the Hispanic community it’s about 50%. Care to predict where that will lead? Actually, you don’t have to predict, you can simply observe inner city communities.

    Who will socialize the children? Who will teach young men how they should behave? What will our society look like in 25 or 50 years? It is a national calamity, but rather than take steps to strengthen nuclear families (one man, one woman for the benefit of children, for life), our society is moving in the opposite direction and doing things that do further damage to its very foundation.

    But hey, it won’t affect YOUR marriage so no worries, right?

  • Jeanne Ballou

    Thank you (I think). I will be done with this now. See you in Church!

  • Jeanne Ballou

    I evade nothing. Please be so kind to cite some scientific research in peer-reviewed journals so that I may have access to the same references as you do. What I do have is personal experience, direct observation, and professional knowledge of many non-traditional types of families. I know nothing of polygamy except for what I have read in the Bible, and I know that was necessary in order to grow the population. No longer required.

  • Jeanne Ballou

    Something like that, but not in the way that you may think. God bless you.

  • Droodlebug

    Well said Cincinnatus! The real injustice is to the children who will be allowed to be adopted by same sex couples. What about their right to a mother and a father? The Regnerus study published in July 2012 in Social Science Research is the first large survey study I’m aware of that was able to tease out the adult children who grew up in families headed for at least some time by same sex couples and found they had more depression, drug use, unhappiness etc.. It really didn’t show anything unexpected in the sense that the most well adjusted survey responders on average came from the folks raised by their own biological mother & father. Kids from broken heterosexual marriages didn’t do well either- not surprisingly. The gay lobby has tried to impugn Dr. Regnerus, but he is just presenting data & he has even provided this large database to other researchers to ask further questions. Is his study perfect- no, but it is the first one that is asking the questions in a large, random population & not the convenience samples that have been so frequently published and trotted out as “good” research.
    One of the things that is stunning to me is to see how the church has been ridiculed for not dealing more openly and honestly with the problem of predatory homosexual behavior within the clergy, and yet that same crowd is now openly advocating that gay men should be allowed to adopt children. This strikes me as inconsistent. I have no animus toward folks who have SSA. I am just afraid for our civilization if we continue to put the desires of adults ahead of the needs of children.

  • Cincinnatus1775

    …and you as well.

  • Cincinnatus1775

    First, don’t confuse the teaching of the Church with political positions to be adopted or not based on popular opinion. Second, understand that the Church PROPOSES, it does not impose. Indeed, God proposes; He made us in his image, free to choose to follow him or not. Church teaching on marriage, family and sexuality is clear and accessible. It’s in the Catechism, which contains the teaching of the Church on faith and morals as revealed by God. We are free to believe His word or not, but we are not free to change it and if we choose not to follow it there are consequences. It’s that simple.

    That there are those, even those who consider themselves Catholic, who choose not to follow the teaching comes as no surprise. Such people have existed from the beginning; the Apostle Paul wrote to communities of Christians who went astray within the living memory of Christ’s resurrection. But their presence in no way serves as a message that those who try to follow the teaching should just let it go and get with the program.

    “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Mt 7:13-14

  • Jeanne Ballou

    Thank you for providing a citation I can actually look up!

  • Jeanne Ballou

    I am almost “all set” not only with this thread, but with this entire forum. Just waiting for a response from Paul Ben and then I will go away! You are way too intellectual for me. I only have a master’s degree and an IQ of 108 which puts me at quite a disadvantage.

  • Jeanne Ballou

    Probably. You just don’t hear a lot from them because they are busy working and otherwise trying to have a life. (At least that’s what I would have been doing before I retired).

  • DoughRemy

    Dr. Kengor asked, “How does a lifelong Roman Catholic come to this [Kennedy’s] position…?” His broader question is about the Church’s inability to catechize its own members.

    I am well aware of the Church’s official teaching on marriage, family, and sexuality. What I am saying is that some of those teachings are so archaic, so out-of-step with the empirical realities of modern life, so nonsensical, and in some cases so harmful, that most Catholics are simply ignoring them.

    Furthermore, these “legacy” Catholics are no longer afraid to ignore Church teaching. They do not fear the otherworldly “consequences” that you invoke because they are more concerned about the real-world consequences of allowing the Church to govern their lives. They are for the most part pragmatic and realistic, and they are well integrated into secular society.

    Dr. Kengor is certainly correct in seeing that the Church is losing the allegiance of Catholics in this country. I am offering reasons why I think this is happening.

  • Cincinnatus1775

    The consequences aren’t just otherworldly. There’s plenty of empirical evidence of consequences for our society and individuals in the here-and-now.

  • Greg

    We should celebrate judges who put aside religious bigotry. This is a democracy. Separation of church and state. Our laws in the USA are based upon secular not religious law. If one wants a religious state as Iran, for example, then our liberties are null and void. Everyone should be treated as equal under our system of law–gays included–and yes, Catholics too.