Editor's note: This story was updated Oct. 6 with the result of the confirmation vote.
On the afternoon of Oct. 3, every woman in the United States Senate got an email from the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore. The message: a plea to vote no on appointing Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. However, the Senate on Oct. 6 voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh.
Following the Sept. 27 hearing with Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school, the reasons for writing the letter began to add up, the community's leadership team said: Ford's credibility next to Kavanaugh's anger, the reactions that excused his behavior as typical, and the responses from young girls who are internalizing this conversation.
It was "the straw that broke the camel's back," said Benedictine Sr. Kathy McNany, who wrote the letter.
"We speak with you joining our voices with that of Dr. Ford and other women who have found the courage to speak out, and to challenge the structures that continue to diminish the dignity of women," the letter said. "We urge you, plead with you to vote NO on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh."
The letter was circulated thanks to contacts in Congress from Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.
The letter noted two pieces in the media that particularly inspired the community to write a letter. One was an NPR interview with a high school student responding to the hearings and how the public's response — "boys will be boys" — is a damaging message to young girls. The second was a column in the Washington Post.
"How is a young woman to grow in self-esteem and know dignity as a woman if she continues to be invisible, at least in her teenage years!" the letter reads.
McNany, who is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore leadership team, said when the community sends a letter around justice issues, typically it's signed by individuals rather than the congregation. But after sharing what she wrote with her fellow sisters, "they also wanted to be on board with it," she said.
"For me, once Dr. Ford spoke — and everybody, including our president, said this — she was so credible, and everybody admired her coming forth," said Sr. Patricia Kirk, the community's prioress. "And then after Judge Kavanaugh spoke, it just hit me, it hit us, in the pit of our stomach. It was so irate, and I thought to myself, 'If that was a woman speaking, they'd say she's out of order, she's emotional.' ... This whole confirmation I find so disturbing."
Benedictine Sr. Jacinta Fernandes, who's been involved in social service work for more than 50 years, said there are "a lot of reasons" she doesn't want to see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, even before the accusations from Ford and two other women. But his anger and partisanship during the hearing "disturbed" her.
"To me, that just confirmed what I had already felt," she said.
The Washington Post column that also prompted McNany to write the letter was inspired by Ford's words before Congress: "I was ... wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated."
The "powerful image" of a train that keeps on going, McNany said, "is the feeling that I am left with many times, this only being one of them, when women get the courage to come forward. One of my main ministries is spiritual direction, [so] I meet women who deal with this and see what it does to their soul, to their hearts, and I needed to do something."
Sr. Joan Marie Stief, who is also on the community's leadership team, said it was the hearing's aftermath, "the deliberate stirring up of denial of women again and their rights," that was particularly disappointing.
"Comments about teenage behavior — 'That happened so long ago, you got to let go and move on' — the young women have been impacted for life," Stief said. "And to dismiss that is awful, and it's awful for the young people today."
Kirk said issues surrounding women's rights and dignity particularly sets "a part of our souls on fire" and is "a deep part of our calling."
No senator responded to the letter ahead of an Oct. 5 preliminary vote, McNany said.
"We urge you, plead with you to vote NO on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh," the letter concludes. "Let our young women know how valuable they are to the future of this country. Let your vote count toward integrity and respect and the dignity of all ... women AND men. The time to act is NOW."
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