Three of them grabbed headlines often in the latter part of the year — Amy Coney Barrett, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Anthony Fauci – and they were among the top Catholic newsmakers in 2020 named by a prominent Catholic review.
America, the Jesuit Review, said that the year that has just passed by was “12 months of a lot of bad news.”
During an endless barrage of reports of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic and social devastation, life in the United States still went on despite surpassing 20 million virus cases and 346,000 death on Jan. 1.
They were not necessarily American magazine’s five favorite U.S. Catholic newsmakers of 2020, yet they were the one ones who garnered “the most heat and light” and they are likely to catch the public eye again this year.
The five are William Barr, Amy Coney Barrett, Joseph Biden, Kobe Bryan and Anthony Fauci.
The top infectious disease expert in the United States, Fauci was also on global television screens during the year.
“Who couldn’t fall at least a bit in love with America’s favorite doctor this past year? (Well, not the sitting president, but his enemies list makes Richard Nixon look like a Quaker…wait, Richard Nixon actually was a Quaker?),” wrote the magazine.
Dr. Fauci is a 1958 graduate of Regis High School in New York City and a 1962 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. (a classics major!).
He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“He became the public face of Covid-19 prevention efforts this year, offering sage advice and caution during the early days of the pandemic, and never backed down when other figures in and out of government tried to water down his wisdom or contradict the medical realities of Covid-19,” wrote America.
That meant voicing unpopular opinions sometimes, including advising U.S. Catholics to forgo receiving the Eucharist for a time.
Fauci also offered encouragement to graduating students at Jesuit high schools around the country in a virtual address to the students at Regis High School in May.
“Currently our lives have been upended by a truly historic global pandemic. I am profoundly aware that graduating during this time—and virtually, without your friends, classmates and teachers close by—is extremely difficult,” he said.
“However, please hang in there. We need you to be smart, strong and resilient. With discipline and empathy, we will all get through this together.”
William Barr was appointed by President Donald Trump to his second stint as attorney general of the United States in 2019.
He was also attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, but his tenure didn’t last long:
In December Trump announced that Barr would depart from the administration in its final days, having fallen out of favor with the president for saying publicly he found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“But Mr. Barr gained a fair amount of notoriety among his fellow Catholics on a different issue: his enthusiasm for the death penalty,” said America.
Despite frequent Vatican clarifications that executions can have no justification for executions, Barr instructed the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in July 2019 to restart executing prisoners sentenced to death in federal court.
“Recent months have seen a flurry of legal activity seemingly designed to facilitate executions before the incoming Biden administration presumably suspends the practice again. It hasn’t won Mr. Barr many friends among Catholic bishops.”
“Among the tattoos Kobe Bryant sported on his right bicep was one featuring the name of his wife Vanessa, a crown, a pair of angel wings and the words ‘Psalm XXVII,’” writes America.
The opening lines of Psalm 27 are “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? /The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 27 was used in response on Jan. 26, 2020, the day Bryant died in a helicopter crash just hours after attending Mass.
His death stunned the basketball world and saddened millions of fans, including the Los Angeles Laker fans who saw him play all 20 of his seasons with the team, winning five N.B.A. championships and finishing an all-time fourth in points scored.
Bryant was not often forthcoming about his Catholic faith,
Still, he was described by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as “a very good Catholic, a faithful Catholic,” and one with whom Gomez discussed issues of faith on numerous occasions.
“Mr. Bryant became a notorious figure in 2003 when he was accused of rape; though criminal charges were dropped, he reached an out-of-court settlement with the alleged victim. He credited a priest with helping him through the process,” said America.
“The one thing that really helped me during that process — I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic — was talking to a priest,” Bryant told GQ magazine GQ in 2015.
“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like ”Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
AMY CONEY BARRETT
A U.S. Supreme Court already dominated by Catholics got another one in 2020, as President Trump pushed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett as the sixth Catholic justice.
It came just days before the November presidential election. Justice Barrett earned her own meme during the hearings for her nomination to a lower court in 2017, when U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, referred to Justice Barrett’s religious beliefs by saying, “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
Barrett won praise from many Catholics for her strong views against legal abortion, but she also garnered some negative publicity because of her background in a charismatic Christian community, People of Praise.
America Magazine said that several news outlets “incorrectly equated with the oppressive and sexist community depicted in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“Because she took the seat vacated by the death of liberal scion Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Barrett’s politically conservative bona fides were cast in an even starker light during her October confirmation hearings.”
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
Americans in 2020 opted for the second Catholic president of the United States, six decades after John F. Kennedy became its first.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. will take the oath of office and become the 46th U.S. president on Jan. 21.
In his acceptance speech he quoted the devotional hymn “On Eagles’ Wings” with words based on Psalm 91, the Book of Exodus 19, and the Gospel of Matthew 13. in a very public display of his faith.
“He faced intense criticism for his pro-choice position on abortion, including from Catholic bishops, and was even denied Communion by one zealous pastor with a creative take on canon law.”
“Ultimately, however, a majority of American voters saw “Uncle Joe” as a better option than four more years of Mr. Trump, though American Catholics were almost evenly split in their support for the two candidates.
“So now the important question arises: Which parish will President Biden choose to attend Sunday Mass?”