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.

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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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