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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh & Facebook

153814159378034468I had two posts on Facebook about the nomination and proceedings around Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  The first began simply as a posting of a letter from Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson urging the members of the Knights of Columbus to contact their senators in support of a potential Justice who believes in interpreting the Constitution as it was originally written.  Given the escalating controversy, and not wanting to bring any embarrassment upon the Order, I removed the letter.

Along with this letter there was a CNS news report wherein Msgr. John Enzler (the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington) acclaimed the virtues of a man he had known since Kavanaugh was 12 years old.  Kavanaugh was one of his altar boys at Little Flower in Bethesda, MD. He thinks he may have baptized his two daughters, he still sees him monthly at his evening Mass, and he works with him at St. Maria’s Meals (a program that serves meals to low-income individuals and families).  He belongs to the Catholic John Carroll Society and helps out with other lawyers and professionals.  Kavanaugh also coaches the girls’ basketball team at his parish and tutors at the Washington Jesuit Academy and J.O. Wilson Elementary School. “His faith really shines through in who he is,” Enzler said. In addition to his volunteer work, Kavanaugh also reads as a lector at his church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington.  After his nomination, he stated, “members of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area disagree about many things, but we are united in our commitment to serve.”  Msgr. Enzler praised him as a man: “This is your neighbor next door. He’s a great husband, a wonderful father to his daughters, and has lots and lots of friends. He’s very intellectual, of course, but you wouldn’t know it by his demeanor.”

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After the allegations of assault were made, Msgr. Enzler did not back off from his recommendation:  “I know Brett Kavanaugh to be a man of honesty and integrity. My opinion of him is based upon a 40-year relationship in which he’s never given me any reason to doubt his veracity and character. Hopefully the facts concerning the recent allegations will bear out my trust in him.”

One of the few civil comments of disagreement to the endorsement from Supreme came from my dear friend Robert White.  He wrote:

“Fr. Joe, I can’t do that. I think that this is the wrong man for the bench not because of the sexual allegations against him but because I believe that he is coming to the bench with a predetermined mind on other issues relating to the powers of the executive branch of government which will have far lasting negative impact on our freedoms. ‘Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).”

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My response followed:

“(I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the letter from Supreme.) I have no issue with those who have their own logical and concrete reasons for opposing the nomination although I think every potential Justice has a view of some sort about the separation of powers. My preference is for one that fully respects the demarcation of powers and jurisdiction between the Judiciary, Legislative and Executive branches of government. I think we have seen the alternating expansion of the Executive and Judicial branches due to the unfortunate ineffectiveness of the Senate and Congress to get things done. The Justices should neither create laws nor ‘trump’ those already passed and the President should not rule as a king or despot.”

It was an agreeable exchange.

Next there was a link to a recent television news story with a dear friend and teen that I knew from St. Ann’s in NW DC back in the 1980’s and 90’s.  I thought it was a good interview.  Bettina asserts that whatever the vote, the role of women in the public forum, their presence, rights and needs are in ascendancy and that we are going to have to take more seriously the treatment of women. I may disagree with her about many important issues of the day but none of that takes away from the fact that she is one smart lady. Bettina also notes that this is a lesson or wakeup call for teens that what they do now in high school (and I would add in college) will have lasting repercussions in the days ahead.

https://www.wusa9.com/video/opinion/editorials/off-script/local-women-react-to-brett-kavanaugh/65-8265062

I also posted a link about the Jesuit magazine AMERICA retracting its endorsement for the judge.

https://townhall.com/tipsheet/cortneyobrien/2018/09/28/catholic-jesuit-paper-rescinds-its-endorsement-of-kavanaugh-n2523399

Partisanship and the “party first” mentality, regardless of which side of the aisle, is toxic.

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Turning to the second deleted post, I tried to be creative and used an analogy or story of two children playing in a sandbox where one child throws a bucket at the other.  I was soon thereafter told that I was making light of rape.  Indeed, the initial comment was particularly vicious. Knowing that I was a priest one offered the slur that my remarks were typical since the bishops were hiding boy-rapists. This remark pained me terribly, not only given the recent scandals, but because it was written by someone I care about.  I do not see him very often but I could not love him more if he were my own son.  I deleted the comment.  But it did not take away the sense of pain and betrayal I felt.

I had deliberately tried to steer clear of sexual connotations and was instead focusing upon the issue of timeliness.  The question I was hoping people would ask was how far back do we search to find incriminating evidence for present allegations of wrong doing?  A dangerous precedent was being set.  Allegations without evidence from any moment in a person’s developmental trajectory (even childhood) might suffice to discredit a person’s good name and a lifetime of credible and worthwhile service.  One person commented with a joke about the time of birth.  I took it even further where the unborn child is sometimes wrongly accused as an unjust aggressor.  (It is still my conviction that the ultimate abuse of women is abortion.) A few critics were utterly incensed by the post and comments.

It grieved me that I could be so thoroughly misunderstood.  Both posts and my accompanying comments were about treating people (everyone) with respect. I did poke fun at the investigation into the judge’s youth and yearbook, as well as the somewhat odd but fortuitous keeping of a calendar-diary. But people hear or read what they want hear. I accept blame for a failure to communicate more clearly.  I am saddened more than I can say, especially by the “ad hominem” attacks against me.  President Trump may be the master of that manner of debate, but his critics on the other side of the political divide are also quickly mastering this manner of attack— targeting persons instead of ideas.  Ideas are frequently not discussed; the winner is deemed to be the one who interrupts and shouts the loudest.

In any case, the second Facebook post on Judge Kavanaugh is gone because I got tired of misunderstandings and personal attacks. If I erred in my remarks, I apologize. It was never my intention to hurt anyone or to trivialize either the fear that women feel or the personal violation that is signified by assault.  I would have hoped that people for whom I care and love would have privately messaged me their concerns instead of publicly threatening and condemning me.  (Note that in return I will not share their names here.) I do not have words for how I feel.  I guess that is one of the crosses that come with real love— the pain of discovering that loving and caring is not returned.  The message that some communicate is this, if you disagree with me then you are a bigot, that you are mean and hateful, that you are insensitive, and then may come alienation and disassociation.

It was within the second post that a fellow Knight and I were criticized (should I say condemned) as “middle-aged white males” as if our maturity, gender and ethnicity were crimes. My motives were questioned and emotionally it challenged my own Christian civility. I want to apologize to my brother in the Knights of Columbus for the treatment he received.

It seems to me that sometimes a few words or a posting might touch something deeper and unseen.  It still seems to me that much of what was written in the post and comments was fairly innocuous and cautiously circumspect.  Again, there was no intention or real effort to be offensive or hurtful. There was never any assertion that Christine Ford was lying, just as there was no possible certitude either way about Judge Kavanaugh.  However, it should ultimately matter if an error might bring about the destruction of a person’s good name.  Calumny is still a sin and the possibility of any crime does not negate the wrong of hurting innocent people.  That is what makes this situation so very complicated.  While some critics view the issue of the abuse of women as the only important matter; in truth, we must have a commensurate perspective of the situation.  One of my Facebook friends actually argues that the allegation alone is enough to have the nomination dismissed.  This is not dissimilar from the situation faced by innocent clergy in the face of false charges.  While we want to protect our children and women, are we willing to do so by destroying the innocent along with the guilty?  One of my friends was in the newspapers and she seemed to apply the argument of guilt by association.  In other words, since such parties did happen and boys did misbehave then all boys are probably guilty.  This is not good reasoning.

There was nothing in my post or comments about “sweeping the issue under the rug.”  It was here that a critic cited the bad witness of the Catholic Church.  I guess at this point I was supposed to shut up because given the scandals, priests are presumed by many as no longer having any moral authority whatsoever.

It is true that one of the persons making a comment (man or woman) did make a joke about the culpability of a naked boy baby in a room of nurses.  But that was not my comment.  I did however reference it to speak about the very real bias that some have about men, even from the womb.  Here is what I wrote precisely: “Planned Parenthood could top that, literally arguing that before he was born he was violating a woman’s body as a fetus and thus caused her to question her right to choose. But critics rarely consider that abortion is the most prevalent abuse of women. This mentality is no joke. There was a NOW advocate back in the 1990’s who stated in a rally on the DC Mall that sex between a man and woman was always rape and that to give birth to a male child was to be raped again. As a militant lesbian, she promoted abortion so that male children could be terminated.” This perspective is an extreme, but it is real.  Further, this mentality is just as heinous as the disproportionate numbers of aborted female children in India so as to avoid paying a dowry.

My Knights of Columbus friend and I were singled-out as “middle-aged white males” who because we did not have the worries of women, especially about rape and kidnapping, could not possibly understand.  I wanted to scream, “How dare you— how dare you?”  The post and comment are gone but I was wounded and furious.  “My friend has a family and daughter for which he would lay down his life.  Do you think he never worries about her?  I bought the mace for my goddaughter when she went to college.  I prayed and worried about her every day.  Were you there when I spent the night crying with and counseling a young woman assaulted by her boss?  Were you there when a woman sobbed in my arms after being beaten by her husband?  Were you in the courtroom when I stood by a mother’s side for support as she tried to insure punishment of a man that had abducted her daughter?  Were you there when I held hands with a husband and wife in prayer when we learned that her therapist had taken advantage of the wife?” Were you there when I tried to reaffirm a woman’s self-worth when she equated her boyfriend walking away and not wanting sex with her as rejection as worthless?  Were you there when I received a call after midnight from young teenage girls under the influence of alcohol (after one of those nefarious parties) and needing a ride to get home safely?  Were you there when a man threatened to kill me unless I told him where I had sent his wife and child for shelter against his drunken abuse?  No you were not.  But you think you can judge me.”

Women seemingly have a heightened religious sense.  Priests are surrounded by women.  If I were utterly insensitive to their needs, they would quickly let me know.  During my priesthood I have counseled and aided many women who were mistreated by boyfriends and husbands. I have fought for both the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons. Balancing both compassion and justice, no one should make light of charges of assault or rape, but neither should we presume guilt without evidence. The fact that a senator dissected the meaning of innocuous high school yearbook posts struck me as beyond ridiculous and misplaced. That was the catalyst for the attempt at satire with children playing in a sandbox.

While the posts were still active, I have had to delete a few comments. I reserve the right to do so toward anything that I feel is malignant toward me and/or to the Church. I must ask forgiveness for the deletion of supportive comments in the missing posts. (The upset was ironic as I have never personally expressed either support or opposition for the nominee.)

It is true that I made fun of the wayward process and what I viewed as unfair treatment toward the judge. However, as a pastor of souls I also feel for women who have suffered at the hands of men and who sympathize with his accuser over her allegations. She came across as quite convincing. The judge said that he had no reason to doubt her sincerity in that something happened to her; however, he maintained throughout that it did not involve him. Unless one can read souls, we have no way of knowing for sure. These “he said, she said” debates are often quite hard to resolve. I would urge fairness and justice to all parties. Just as the judge’s little girl urged prayer for her dad’s accuser, we as believers should pray for all involved. Senator John Kennedy had some forceful words for his colleagues, a day after he asked Kavanaugh to “swear to god” that he did not commit the assault against Dr. Ford. “There were no winners in this room,” he said. “All I saw were two people, two human beings in pain.” Very true, but I suspect that if he could see beyond the room, he would also see a whole nation in pain.

ALLEGATIONS

  • Julie Swetnick issued a statement in which she claimed she’d observed Kavanaugh at alcohol-fueled parties where women were mistreated.
  • Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken dorm party 35 years ago at Yale.
  • Christine Blasey Ford made against Kavanaugh related to a period when she and the judge were in high school. She told The Washington Post that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed during a party and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes.
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