Is Evangelical Protestant Mike Pence a Better Catholic Than Tim Kaine?

PJ Media Collage of vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine. Images via Shutterstock and AP.

According to a professor at Catholic University, Indiana Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence is a better Roman Catholic than Virginia Senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, even though Kaine is still a member of the Catholic Church while Pence is not.

“The media has played up Kaine’s Catholicism, including his missionary work in Honduras. They’ve also highlighted the fact that Mike Pence grew up Catholic but became an evangelical Protestant in college,” wrote Jay Richards, a devout Catholic and assistant research professor at Catholic University. “The Clinton/Kaine campaign, and its media surrogates, would like to swing as many Catholic voters to the Democrats as possible. Hence their efforts to present Kaine as the ‘devout’ Catholic, and Pence as the ‘former’ Catholic.”

This could hardly be further from the truth, Richards argued. He compared Pence and Kaine to the two brothers in Jesus’ parable from Matthew 21. In that parable, the father asks his sons to go into the field to work. The first brother says no, but goes anyway. The second brother says yes, but does not go. When Jesus asks his disciples which brother did the will of his father, there’s no contest.

Richards admitted that Pence is not nominally a member of the Catholic Church, but he argued that on essential Catholic doctrine the evangelical Protestant actually follows the Catholic Church’s teaching better than his Democratic rival.

“Popes and bishops offer their opinions on all manner of issues—from immigration to tax and energy policy,” the Catholic University professor noted. This is because “there is no official Catholic teaching on” key public policy issues like immigration or the income tax.

“In fact, it’s possible for a Catholic in good standing to disagree with the pope himself in matters as weighty as the justice of a particular war or resort to the death penalty,” Richards added. He even cited Pope Benedict XVI, who explained why there is such a wide range of political disagreement within Catholic doctrine.

But there are two political issues without such room for disagreement. According to official Catholic doctrine, “it’s impossible to defend legal abortion on demand, funded by taxpayers, and also claim to be a devout Catholic,” the professor argued. “Ditto with marriage.”

Yet Tim Kaine, whom liberals might like to paint as the devout Catholic, is publicly at loggerheads with the Church on both issues.

“He has pledged to keep Roe v. Wade intact, and for his efforts, in 2016, he received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund,” Richards noted. “To say, as Kaine does, that he personally opposes abortion, but legally supports it, makes nonsense of Catholic teaching, which insists that one can know by reason that abortion is wrong.”

“For him to treat his opposition to abortion as a private, sectarian belief is itself a contradiction of Catholic teaching,” the professor argued. Even worse, Kaine knows this — “because he was pro-life until it became untenable.” Ouch.

The same proves true for the Democrat’s position on marriage. Richards noted that Kaine spoke to a group of LGBT activists, promising that the Church will change its opposition to same-sex “marriage” because God approves of His creation. “Here Kaine admits that he disagrees with his church’s teaching, a teaching he is willing to jettison in favor of the ascendant sexuality ideology of our age.” And, as with abortion, Kaine publicly reversed himself to reject the Church’s teaching.

Next Page: Mike Pence, the Protestant a Catholic can admire.

“Mike Pence, in contrast, has been pro-life and pro-marriage in word and deed—both during his tenure in Congress and as governor of Indiana,” Richards declared. Pence indeed has a long and storied record on these issues. He led the fight to defund Planned Parenthood, before it was a popular Republican issue. He signed into law a bill to prevent abortion on the basis of a baby’s genetic disability, race, or gender. As the declared earlier this month at the Values Voter Summit, “I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it.”

Richards quoted the Indianapolis Star on Pence’s marriage views: “Gov. Mike Pence has remained firm in his support of traditional marriage — even in the face of rapidly-shifting public opinion on gay rights.” Pence also warned against the threats to religious freedom from bills aiming to protect homosexuals.

The Catholic University professor tied Pence and Kaine back to Jesus’ parable in Matthew. “Tim Kaine may have promised his Father that he would go work in the field, but it is his opponent Mike Pence who has actually done so.”

Richards quoted Pence, who once referred to himself as “a born again, evangelical Catholic.” This may sound odd, but the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s George Weigel wrote the book Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. There is no reason why Catholics should not embrace the basic tenets of the Gospel. While they believe in a different mechanics of redemption — you are saved through the sacraments, rather than by faith alone — Catholics still embrace the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His Lordship.

When I flirted with joining the Roman Catholic Church in college, I learned about “separated brethren,” a doctrine from the Second Vatican Council that allows Catholics to attempt reconciliation with Protestants in a movement to bring different Christian churches together, known as “ecumenism.”

In the words of J.M.R. Tillard in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “Vatican II was able to affirm at the same time that Churches or ecclesial communities separated from the Catholic Church are part of the single Church, and that nevertheless incorporation in Christ and His Church possesses within the Catholic Church the fullness that it does not have elsewhere.”

In other words, Protestants are not full members of the Catholic Church, but they are nonetheless Christians and part of the same universal church of Jesus Christ. This remains a controversial doctrine among Catholics (many of whom reject large amounts of Vatican II), but it gave me hope that reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants is not just possible, but likely.

To hear a Catholic professor defend a Protestant politician as a better representative of his values than another Catholic again inspires that hope. Nothing brings believing Christians together like a hostile culture. Let us hope that Catholics and Protestants can remember this common ground in the absence of such opposition.