Kaine and Pence: two Catholic-inspired visions with little else in common

Both VP nominees were raised as Catholics but while Democrat Kaine was influenced by liberation theology, Pence was born again as an evangelical

Tim Kaine and Mike Pence were born just a year apart and grew up in the kind of traditional Irish Catholic families that went to mass regularly and revered John F Kennedy.

But when the two midwesterners entered young adulthood, both had experiences that challenged their traditional Catholic views, setting each on a radically different political course that would eventually lead them to Tuesdays vice-presidential debate.

For Kaine, Hillary Clintons Democratic running mate and Virginia senator, it was a nine-month mission to Honduras that became a turning point in his life. It was there that he came face to face with Jesuits who championed a controversial gospel known as liberation theology, which demanded the pursuit of social justice for the poor by the faithful and has been criticised by some traditionalists as a Marxist interpretation of the gospels. He also witnessed extreme poverty, though some critics contend he did not do enough later in life to address the issues he learned about then.

I think of El Progreso everyday. The people, aside from my family, are the most important in shaping who I am today, Kaine said during a November 2014 visit to Honduras.

For Pence, it was the introduction in college to a group of young evangelical Christians who espoused a much more personal and direct relationship with Jesus that led the Indiana native to become a born-again Christian.

His conversion happened at a Christian music festival in Kentucky. I gave my life to Jesus Christ and thats changed everything, he has told reporters.

Since then, he has attended an Indiana mega-church and has at times called himself an evangelical Catholic, a term that has perplexed some Catholic scholars and Vatican experts.

Both politicians histories reflect conflicts within the Roman Catholic church in the age of Pope Francis, including tensions between those like Kaine who emphasise the churchs social justice agenda over its conservative position on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Pence epitomises one of the big threats facing the church today: the conversion of large numbers of Catholics, particularly in Latin America, to evangelical Protestantism.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> The Republican vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence, left, prays with Todd Hudnall, pastor of Radiant church, at the start of a Pastor Roundtable in Colorado Springs. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP

Most political experts do not believe the candidates testaments about their faith will necessarily sway large amounts of voters, but their religious experiences could inevitably influence their work in a Clinton or Trump administration.

As governor of Indiana, Pence one of the most staunchly conservative politicians in the US today had a high-profile run-in with the archbishop of Indianapolis last year following a disagreement over the churchs support of Syrian refugees who were settling in Indiana. Archbishop Joseph Tobin ultimately ignored Pences effort to block the refugees and asked for Catholic charities to assist them. Later, Pence ordered state agencies in Indiana to cut off aid to Syrian refugees, claiming they posed a security risk.

But Tobin, who is considered a more social-justice-minded archbishop, dismissed Pences remarks, and said in what could have been interpreted as a dig at Pence: [Helping refugees] is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians, and we will continue this life-saving tradition.

If we see Pence not as a Catholic, but as a Republican evangelical Protestant, they are very much opposed to bringing in Syrian refugees, and it makes total sense, said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter Sullivan chair in Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Pences biggest controversy as governor was centred on his support for an Indiana law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which in effect gave more legal protection to business owners who refuse to serve LGBT customers. When an uproar over the legislation forced Pence to amend it, he was accused by evangelical pastors of abusing their trust.

For conservative Christians who may be unsure about Trump and feel uncomfortable supporting a candidate without a clear history of religious faith, who has been married three times and has recently accused a woman of making a sex tape, Pences views which some have described as fundamentalist Christian may assuage their concerns. At the same time, Pences story may turn off some faithful Catholics.

During the John Paul years, being evangelical Catholic meant being firmly Catholic but with a preaching instinct. We didnt mean someone who left the church and became evangelical and then tried to put Humpty Dumpty together again, said John Allen, a veteran Vatican reporter. Meanwhile, Kaine is unquestionably Catholic, but for a lot of conservatives, they have issues with his views on social issues.

Back in Virginia, where Kaine attends a historically African American Catholic church, the Democratic nominee has also had a run-in with his local bishop, a conservative named Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond. When Kaine said at a Human Rights Campaign gala dinner last month that he believed the Catholic church could change its position against same-sex marriage, DiLorenzo quickly issued a press statement saying the churchs 2,000-year position on marriage was unchanged and resolute, despite rumblings on the campaign trail.

Kaine is really falling in line with the majority of American Catholics who believe same-sex marriage should be legal and who perhaps have more complex views on abortion laws than culture warriors would have us believe, said Michael OLoughlin, national correspondent for American magazine, a Catholic publication.

Like other Catholic Democrats, Kaine has said he is personally opposed to abortion but supports a womans right to choose the termination of pregnancy. When he served as governor of Virginia, Kaine oversaw 11 executions, despite his own stated objection to the death penalty, which is also opposed by the church.

It is not the first time two men who identify themselves as Catholic have gone head to head in a national election. In 2012, ABCs Martha Raddatz noted that the debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan was a first for exactly that reason: the US has only ever elected one Catholic president, John F Kennedy, and the Biden-Ryan debate was the first time two vice-presidential nominees were both Catholic.


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The Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, shakes hands with supporters after speaking at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Photograph: Mark Wallheiser/AP

Asked to describe how their Catholic faith had shaped their view of abortion, Biden said he was defined by his religion, particularly the social doctrine that calls on Catholics to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

I accept my churchs position on abortion, I accept it in my personal life, but I refuse to impose that on others. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women, that they cant control their body, Biden said.

Ryan retorted that he did not understand how a person could separate their public from their private life or their faith.

Our faith informs us on everything we do, Ryan said. Yet the man who went on to become the Republican speaker of the House has also endorsed steep spending cuts that would decimate social programmes for the poor. The <a href=”http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/222003-catholic-bishops-criticize-ryan-budget-cuts-to-food-stamps” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>US Conference of Catholic Bishops has criticised a budget Ryan put forward as failing to meet certain moral criteria.

Similar arguments will probably be made on Tuesday.

They both are exhibiting the challenges Catholic politicians face today. Neither party is a natural home for the wide array of Catholic teachings, so certain compromises have to be made and the result is that you are going to upset people on both sides, OLoughlin said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/04/vp-nominees-tim-kaine-mike-pence-catholic

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