Greetings from Prague, in the Czech Republic. It's kind of interesting to visit a part of the world where the World Cup matters more than the latest tweets of Donald Trump. Needless to say, people do have strong opinions about what Trump is up to, in terms of England, Russia and beyond.
That open U.S. Supreme Court seat? Not so much. The assumption is that Trump has nominated a Trump candidate to please Trump people.
That's bad, of course. It also misses some of the most interesting angles in the Brett Kavanaugh story -- some of which are linked to religion and culture. So once you get past this man's love of charging baseball tickets on his credit card, and his ability to serve mac and cheese to the homeless, what kinds of picture is emerging for Americans who read major newspapers?
I was really intrigued, the other day, by the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: "The elite world of Brett Kavanaugh."
"Elite" is an interesting world in this case. This really is one of the cases in which, in D.C. Beltway culture, the word "elite" actually means rich, powerful and liberal.
On one level, this is a real estate story -- it's all about location, location, location. Before we get the Kavanaugh's church, let's look at the opening anecdote about his local bar.
The Chevy Chase Lounge is a neighborhood joint where bartender Tim Higgins is accustomed to bantering with long-standing patrons, including a middle-aged guy named Brett who likes to pop in for a Budweiser and a burger after coaching his daughters’ basketball games.
As he watched the news recently, Higgins learned something else about Brett Kavanaugh: He was among the judges whom President Trump was considering to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Most people in Washington tell you what they do,” Higgins said from behind the bar Tuesday, the day after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. “I never knew Brett was a lawyer. I expect we’ll be seeing him in here a lot less.”
Note: Not only did Kavanaugh not talk politics with his bar crowd, he wasn't even talking about what he does for a living -- on the second most powerful court in America. Maybe that's because he is a mainstream Republican living in one of greater DC's most prominent nests of liberal Democrats?
Location, location, location. How about education and church?
... Kavanaugh is that rare high-profile appointee who is pure Washington, a product of its most prestigious addresses: the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School, where he was taught by Jesuits before attending Yale; the White House, where he was deputy counsel to President George W. Bush; and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Roman Catholic parish just off Chevy Chase Circle, where he and his family attend services.
Ah, the church.
Now, Washington has plenty of major Catholic parishes in which a doctrinally conservative culture warrior (if that's what Kavanaugh actually is, other than in discussions on late-night American TV and fundraising letters for liberal nonprofits) would fit right in. So is that where this judge goes to Mass and perhaps Confession?
The Post team stresses, kind of, that this is not the case -- that Kavanaugh has managed to blend in with his neighbors in this rather liberal hive he calls home. He does not stand out in this culture, at the level of social events and service.
What does that look like at church? You can tell a religion-desk pro was involved in the reporting. The picture is complex and detailed:
Nor does politics arise when Kavanaugh attends 5:30 p.m. Mass on Sundays at Blessed Sacrament, sometimes accompanied by his two daughters, still in the basketball uniforms they wore to games they played -- and he coached -- that day.
The church has long been the parish for a diverse array of the area’s Catholic elite, from liberal giants such as the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews to conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and William Bennett.
“It doesn’t matter what their affiliation is, they want to know Jesus Christ, and that’s why they’re here,” said the Rev. William Foley, the church’s pastor, who has his own connections to official Washington: His father served a director of the administrative offices of the U.S. courts under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.
So are there doctrinal and, yes, legal ghosts hiding in the background?
Mark Shields, a liberal commentator who serves as an usher at the church, said that what makes the parish “very special” is the way clerical leadership has focused people on service “to those who are less blessed than we are.”
“We don’t give litmus tests. There’s just an assumption that you believe the values and teachings of Christ,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone act like: ‘How can you be here? You’re a baby killer!’ to those who voted for John F. Kerry, or someone saying someone else is anti-immigrant. It’s trying to find out what we have in common rather than applying a litmus test to everyone who comes in the door.”
This is -- no surprise -- where I wish the Post team had dug a bit deeper. Pay attention to the very next paragraph:
Still, Monsignor John Enzler, now president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Washington, said he avoided certain subjects when he was a priest at Blessed Sacrament from 2010 to 2014.
“I admit I was careful because you don’t want to set people off. On the other hand, on immigration, I’d definitely speak about that strongly, no matter what,” Enzler said. He said one of the current priests at Blessed Sacrament preaches often on immigration.
So what does set the people off, in a negative way, in this liturgical location, location, location?
What topics are best avoided in the sanctuary in which Kavanaugh kneels? Are there any particular doctrines that are dangerous territory here?
Just asking, even as I stress that this is a way, way, better story than the norm, on this topic, during these tense times.
Oh, in terms of comments: I'd love to hear from conservative Catholics about some of the symbolism in this feature.