Roach: In God We Trust

"They worship a Jesus who has a three-car garage and looks more like a Norwegian than a short Jewish guy."
Dark and up close photo of a man wearing a Priest Collar
Photo by Getty Images.

It’s not often someone would include Madison’s St. Maria Goretti Parish and the Supreme Court of the United States in the same sentence but, sure enough, there is cause for it with the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Religion in politics hits home as I am the product of 12 years of Catholic education at Madison’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic School and Edgewood High. The religion of my youth is news because the U.S. Supreme Court is now two-thirds Roman Catholic. This is unprecedented in American history.

There is a reason for this. Five of the six Catholic justices have been appointed by Republican presidents because they reflect the conservative thinking of the Republican Party, which just so happens to align with the conservative sect of the Catholic Church.

This old-school, flashback Catholicism has also made news recently on Madison’s west side with doings at St. Maria Goretti’s elementary school. As detailed smartly by Wisconsin State Journal reporter Chris Rickert, that congregation’s turn toward the conservative Catholicism of the last century has led to a dramatic exodus of families from the parish grade school and the loss of more than half of its teaching staff.

Rickert’s piece stated that one of the reasons families were fleeing the school was the sharp emphasis on the spiritual grooming of boys, specifically. This is no surprise, as the Catholic Church is woefully short of priests. This might be less of a problem if women could be priests, but in the Catholic Church that is not the case — only men are in charge.

And that is where the nexus between conservative Catholicism, the Supreme Court, and the reversal of Roe v. Wade comes into focus. As someone educated in the old conservative Catholic Church, I can tell you that women had no authority. Only men stood in the pulpit and on the altar. Only men administered the sacraments. Only men made the decisions.

There were nuns in the Catholic clergy but they worked primarily in the traditional female roles of teachers or nurses. They lived humble lives in sparsely appointed convents. Couldn’t own a car. Had to travel in groups, never alone. Wore mandated head coverings called “habits.” Meanwhile, the Madison bishop, with his uncovered head, lived in an opulent mansion on Lake Mendota that is now the clubhouse for Bishops Bay Country Club. In short, when it came to power and status, nuns had none.

As for Catholic women in general, it seemed to me the Church wanted one thing from them over all other duties.

It wanted them to be pregnant.

In my parish, it was not unusual to see Catholic families with nine, 10, 11, even 12 kids. All born one right after another because the Church looked askance at birth control, no doubt because it inhibited the creation of more Catholics, never mind the health of the ever-pregnant mothers and the children raised in economic stress and domestic mayhem. And never mind the criminal way too many of those children were later abused by parish priests.

The Catholic Church also taught, independent of scientific discussion, that life began at conception. That same Church also taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin who was impregnated by God, not her husband, Joe, the carpenter. The Catholic Church calls this The Immaculate Conception. This, too, lacks scientific support.

So, does the conservative Catholic Church have an archaic view of women? Yup.

But this new religious conservatism is not a Catholic thing alone. The southern evangelical Christian right that fueled the run of the previous president seems to believe, in direct contradiction of our Constitution, that America is a hetero-Christian nation. They worship a Jesus who has a three-car garage and looks more like a Norwegian than a short Jewish guy.

All of this right-wing religious fervor reminds me of my late mother, who was raised as an orphan by the Dominican sisters in the convent of Edgewood High School. When the revolutionary birth control pill became available in the mid-1960s it was opposed by the Catholic Church. My mom, who had six kids, went on that pill right away.

She explained her defiance thusly.

“When the Pope carries a baby for nine months, then he can tell me what to do.”

Smart woman.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at

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