Sonia Sotomayor and American Catechesis

Senator Jim DeMint, a pro-life Republican from South Carolina, shared details from a remarkable meeting he had with Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Sotomayor has been meeting privately with each member of the Senate — smart political preparation for her vetting before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. DeMint said he had a “good meeting” with the judge, but came away concerned over an extremely telling comment.

“When I asked [Sotomayor] if an unborn child has any rights whatsoever,” says DeMint, “I was surprised that she said she had never thought about it.” Frustrated, incredulous, DeMint added: “This is not just a question about abortion, but about respect due to human life at all stages.”

Indeed, such professed ignorance by Sotomayor is not merely a surprise but a shock, particularly given that she’s not only a legal mind but lifelong Roman Catholic. Could it be possible that such a highly educated woman — hailed as “brilliant” by leaders of “abortion-rights” groups like NARAL and NOW — who is not shy about extolling her rich life experiences, has never thought about whether an unborn child has any rights whatsoever?

The secular media, of course, will grapple with the thought in purely political terms, but what does this jaw-dropping statement say to Sotomayor’s fellow Catholics?

To be sure, many observers, Catholic or non-Catholic, will insist that Sotomayor was not truthful to Senator DeMint — that she lied. As for those of us who are Catholic, however, and who must appeal to the virtue of charity, let’s accept that she was being honest. What might it mean?

The question is a crucial one, with some disturbing implications. Consider:

How could a 54-year-old lifelong, highly educated Roman Catholic, who was on the forensics team and was valedictorian at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton as an undergrad, who went to a top law school at Yale, who debated endless legal questions with law students and in classrooms and in law clubs and in seminars and in legal journals, who was an editor at the Yale Law Review, who was a law professor at NYU School of Law and Columbia Law School, who was assistant D.A. in New York City, who sits on the bench as a federal appeals court judge, who, as a Catholic, listened to presumably hundreds to thousands of homilies, who has surely heard the Catechism quoted, who interacts with other Catholics … manage never to consider this most fundamental human question?

What does her priest have to say about this? How about her bishops? How about the Religious Ed directors at her parishes? How about those who may have joined her in Bible Study or prayer groups or Catholic book discussions or something like a “Why Catholic” program? How about her teachers in Catholic schools? Did her teachers bother to cover the Declaration of Independence, which underscores an unalienable right to life? How about those “social-justice” Catholics around Sotomayor? Have they done nothing, policy-wise, but preach wealth redistribution?

Let’s be more specific: How about Jesuit Father Joseph O’Hare, the retired president of Fordham University, who served with Sotomayor on a New York City campaign finance review council? According to Steve Waldman of, O’Hare knows Sotomayor so well that she gave his name as a reference for her FBI background check. O’Hare says that when he first met Sotomayor, back in the late 1980s, “she was indeed a practicing Catholic.” Has Father O’Hare ever — even just once — discussed human life with the judge?

Can all of these folks — the long list of them — vouch that they’ve never raised this thought with Sonia Sotomayor?

If so, then they have some explaining to do, because they have been horribly complicit in a grand moral failure about to get (potentially) far worse. Somewhere along the line, this large cast of shepherds has tragically, scandalously failed to tend to this now extraordinarily significant member of the flock.

Personally, I fear, sadly, that Sotomayor’s claim of ignorance on this basic question of human life is possibly all too true. I grew up a cradle Catholic, going to Mass weekly from the late 1960s into the late 1980s — many of the same years as Sotomayor. I can honestly say that I cannot recall a single discussion of the humanity of the unborn, from a priest or teacher in my “Catechism” classes.

When I went to college, a secular one, and majored in both pre-med and political science, and entertained hot-button issues of bioethics, law, and the U.S. Constitution, I was rudderless, with no moral anchor.

Humanae Vitae — what in the world was that?

I was an ignoramus, with myself to blame, first and foremost, but, also, no doubt, some responsibility must go to the shepherds — those who either didn’t believe the Church’s profound ethical teachings, or who, more likely, were too cowardly to inform those of us who needed them most.

Consequently, I went off to the Lion’s Den that is the secular hell of the modern American campus. I was eventually rescued by evangelical Protestants, who at last made me a Christian. I would come home to Rome later.

That’s a digression, but the point is that I had been un-catechized on the essential gospel of life, which happened to be the single most important message I needed as a teenage boy heading off to Animal House.

So, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sonia Sotomayor has long suffered from similar pastoral failures and abdication of responsibility. The difference between her and me, of course, is that she is poised to hold Roe v. Wade in her judicial hands, and thus the flesh and blood of millions of unborn humans — those allegedly “right-less” citizens already sentenced to execution by several Catholic Supreme Court justices. Sotomayor can cause infinitely more damage than did I as a moral moron prowling around frat-houses.

If Sonia Sotomayor never thought about the rights of the unborn in all her years as a Roman Catholic, then the Church itself must accept much of the blame. And now, to borrow from Barack Obama’s former pastor, the chickens are coming home to roost.

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.”

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • It is hard for me to believe that she as a Catholic has never in all those years thought or heard that all life is precious. It is indeed scary that if she is telling the truth she is not as brilliant as they claim she is and has not developed a conscience on the matter with all the information of abortion that we are daily subjected to in the media. It just doesn’t pass the smell test.

  • bambushka

    Indeed, the chickens have come home, and the eggs they will lay will be rotten to the core. It seems for the past few years, it’s been too little leadership and solid teaching too late. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

  • DonnaMaria

    I just pray that she is secretly pro-life, but if that came out, there would be no way she’d be in the running. It’s a stretch, but we can hope.

    I was also catechised throughout the 70’s, and was an ignoramus. Peace, love, and rock and roll. I was a newborn intensive care nurse when I first realized that life needed to be protected, and that was from a professional standpoint. I was enlightened after a trip to Rome in ’99, and my husband and I started learning about our faith on our own.

    Pray that a Justice Sotomayor, appointed by the most rabidly pro-abortion president in our history, will be the opposite of what he wants her to be, like too many of the justices appointed by our prolife presidents!

  • LarryW2LJ

    Unlike Dr. Kengor, I tend to be more cynical. I think that Judge Sotomayer knew full well the political background of Senator DeMint; and chose to “punt”, and not answer the question for whatever reason.

    Maybe she doesn’t want to broadcast a pro-life leaning (I can only hope); for fear of running afoul of NARAL and PPH and thus getting “borked”.

    Only time will tell; and at this point, all we can do is pray.

    Larry W2LJ

  • Joe DeVet

    Ah, yes, catechesis–one of my favorites was John Kerry during the 2004 campaign when he said something like, “My conscience on abortion rights was formed properly, according to Catholic teaching from Pope Pius XXIII in The Vatican II!”

  • mallys

    It does not surprise me at all. Catechesis has a “lost generation” in which Judge Sotomayor firmly rests. They got the Jesus message as, “Jesus loves us, let’s make a collage.” Doctrine was “too old fashioned” and “too hard” and devotions, such as the Rosary, with its meditation on Annunciation and Visitation (which put the preborn deep in our hearts and consciousness) were “medieval.”

    On the other side, feminist and pro-abortion theorists had to disregard the rights of the child, when the “rights of women” became a narrow vision of first becoming exactly like, then replacing men in society. She fits firmly in that group as well.

    God claimed her for His own in Baptism, we can only pray for her to accept it continually (as we all must) and let Him bring the good from any situation. This neither precludes nor demands our lobbying our Senators. But we must pray for God’s will to be done.

  • Warren Jewell

    Thouigh I was ‘catechized’ in Catholic schools about two decades before you Seventies babies, graduating from Catholic high school in 1964, I can’t say it was great catechesis. For one thing, the broad gauge of God’s love for us – for me – and all cause to love Him in return in the form of ‘if you love Me, you will keep My Commandments’, was absent, to my memories. We NEVER cracked the Bible open, and rarely the Baltimore Catechism, to study beyond formalized texts.

    The plentiful Sisters, good ladies and good teachers, and the Christian Brothers in high school, just did not get to the heart of ‘why did God make me?’ First, He made me to love me that I love Him; and in that is fount in graces why and how I love Him, and know and serve Him. It is one huge hole in my background of Catholic religious education, now remedied in self-study.

  • Warren Jewell

    Hmmm – that said about me, about Sonia Sotomayor I think that she is trying to stay under the radar of the life issues. Though I would think it is because she realizes any anti-life stance would get major assault from pro-life sources, and even if she is pro-life, would find her nomination pulled by the Obama administration.

    However, I find that this administration just does not pass the ‘sniff’ test about honesty over mendacity. She is more or less coming out of this administration. I don’t trust her just for that, let alone that she claims that she is somehow more intelligent and honorable than I am, for her Latin background versus my Indo-European-based Caucasian background.

  • Pingback: Steve Sailer’s iSteve Blog: Sonia…. Sonia Sotomayor and…. | Total Info()

  • noelfitz

    I am not sure of the purpose of this article.

    I read:
    “Personally, I fear, sadly, that Sotomayor’s claim of ignorance on this basic question of human life is possibly all too true…

    If Sonia Sotomayor never thought about the rights of the unborn in all her years as a Roman Catholic, then the Church itself must accept much of the blame.”

    Is it an attack on the Church for its many failures?

    It seems as if one who has strayed from the faith is attacking one who has held on to Catholicism throughout her life..

    St Augustine seems to have concerns, similar to Ms Sotomayor, about the unborn and its rights. In fact Church teaching is not clear.

    I read:

    The City of God, bk 22, ch 12
    For if there is to be equality, where shall those abortions, supposing that they rise again, get that bulk which they had not here? Or if they shall not rise because they were not born but cast out, they raise the same question about children who have died in childhood, asking us whence they get the stature which we see they had not here; for we will not say that those who have been not only born, but born again, shall not rise again.

    The City of God, bk 22, ch 13
    That abortions, which, even supposing they were alive in the womb, did also die there, shall rise again, I make bold neither to affirm nor to deny, although I fail to see why, if they are not excluded from the number of the dead, they should not attain to the resurrection of the dead. For either all the dead shall not rise, and there will be to all eternity some souls without bodies though they once had them, – only in their mother’s womb, indeed; or, if all human souls shall receive again the bodies which they had wherever they lived, and which they left when they died, then I do not see how I can say that even those who died in their mother’s womb shall have no resurrection. But whichever of these opinions any one may adopt concerning them, we must at least apply to them, if they rise again, all that we have to say of infants who have been born.

    Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, ch 85
    So in the first place arises a question about abortive conceptions, which have indeed been born in the mother’s womb, but not so born that they could be born again. For if we shall decide that these are to rise again, we cannot object to any conclusion that may be drawn in regard to those which are fully formed. Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified?

  • Mary Kochan

    Noel, what Augustine is calling “abortions” are what we call miscarriages and these quotes have nothing to do with their right to life, but to questions regarding resurrection.

    Even today, the medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion” and abortions that are caused by human intervention are called “procured abortions” to distinguish then from natural accidents.

    Here is a quotation from a Medical dictionary:

    Abortion: In medicine, an abortion is the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes, and placenta) from the uterus. It is the loss of a pregnancy and does not refer to why that pregnancy was lost. A spontaneous abortion is the same as a miscarriage.

    Augustine believed with the entire Church what the Didache (c. AD70) said:

    The Lord’s Teaching to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles:

    1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.

    2 Now, this is the way of life:…

    The second commandment of the Teaching: “Do not murder; do not commit adultery”; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; “do not steal”; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. “Do not covet your neighbor’s property; do not commit perjury; do not bear false witness”; do not slander; do not bear grudges. Do not be double-minded or double-tongued, for a double tongue is “a deadly snare.” Your words shall not be dishonest or hollow, but substantiated by action. Do not be greedy or extortionate or hypocritical or malicious or arrogant. Do not plot against your neighbor. Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for others, and still others love more than your own life.

    Nothing ambiguous about that.

  • dkpalaska

    A good article, that can legitimately be taken to encompass a much broader base than just Sotomayor. I also had well-meaning but poor catechesis growing up; fortunately I married a devout man who kept me anchored during my adult floundering years! I’m glad that you eventually came home, Dr. Kengor. 🙂

    Thank you also to Ms. Kochan for the clarification on noelfitz’s quotes. It provides a caution to seizing upon (without additional research) any quote that seems to bolster one’s opinion – no matter on which side of the discussion you are.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that the Catholic Church, a great friend of science, is certainly capable of advancing beyond the understanding of the unborn child that existed during the time of the Church Fathers. Unlike them, we can actually witness the moment of conception and see the child in all stages of development. I’ve never heard anyone give a logical alternate explanation of when human life begins, besides at moment of sperm meeting egg.

  • Noel, I also was lost through bad catechesis and made my way back to God and His Church through Evangelical witness (see and ). Are you suggesting that because my formation was so bad early in life, it must be bad now? That because of this, I cannot say that another person’s associations and choices strongly suggest that she is at best lukewarm and at worst hypocritical in her professed faith? Should we not honestly and scrupulously examine all people who, for all practical purposes, decide when our government can threaten us with deadly force?

    If this isn’t what you’re suggesting, plainly say what you are trying to suggest. If it is, I’d like to know why you believe these things.

  • noelfitz

    I am pleased my post elicited many thoughtful and courteous replies.

    The issue of the rights of the unborn are not simple.
    I quoted St Augustine, his remarks correspond to the aborted and miscarried children.

    The original debate was raised by Senator DeMint. “When I asked [Sotomayor] if an unborn child has any rights whatsoever,” says DeMint, “I was surprised that she said she had never thought about it.” Frustrated, incredulous, DeMint added: “This is not just a question about abortion, but about respect due to human life at all stages.”


    I am grateful to you. As you know we are both in essential agreement as Catholics.

    I am always surprised at how few references to abortion occur in the early Church.

    The Bible makes no reference and the only ones in the Apostolic Fathers are:
    Didache 2:2
    “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery”; you shall not corrupt boys; you shall not be sexually promiscuous; “you shall not steal”; you shall not practice magic; you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.(This essentially agrees with what you gave).

    Epistle of Barnabas, 19:5 (part)
    “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.

    The Catholic Church has not always given a Christian burial to all unborn children.

  • Pingback: Sonia Sotomayor and American Catechesis | Pelican Project Pro-Life()

  • Mary Kochan

    Whether or not the Church now gives or has ever given or gives in the future a Christian burial to any, some, or none of children who die before birth is irrelevant to the question of their humanity and rights.

    The Church is not going to give a Christian burial to my Baptist neighbor, but that does not mean that I can extrapolate from that that she is not a human being, has no rights that must be respected, and that I am morally free to kill her.

    The issue actually is very simple. Procuring an abortion, intentionally killing the unborn, is murder and is an intrinsic evil. That is the very clear teaching of the Church.

  • noelfitz

    You wrote:
    “The issue actually is very simple. Procuring an abortion, intentionally killing the unborn, is murder and is an intrinsic evil. That is the very clear teaching of the Church.”

    I fully, completely and unequivocally agree. That is why I say in fundamentals we are fully in agreement. The Decalogue is very cleat – “Thou shalt not kill”.

    St Augustine was thinking about the rights of the unborn, which still causes problems.

    Today I was at the funeral Mass of a Protestant neighbor in our Church. It was very moving. The priest welcomed her remains into the parish Church (building) last night, saying that in baptism she died with Christ. Today the local Protestant pastor read the gospel at the requiem Mass and the prayers over the coffin.

    I think debate is important. I wish to see more here. I note that the last three posts in the CE round-table, “Faith and Life” were by me (June 21, June 14 and June 13).

    We lost many of our old friends and contributors when the site was being upgraded. I would love to see more contributors as I find CE a wonderful encouragement in the Faith. Could you encourage more to share in this round-table?