Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown, ‘Are you Catholic?’

Gov. Jerry Brown and his executive secretary, Nancy McFadden (right), speak with Laurence Tubiana, a representative of the French government on climate change, in Vatican City on July 22, 2015.
Gov. Jerry Brown and his executive secretary, Nancy McFadden (right), speak with Laurence Tubiana, a representative of the French government on climate change, in Vatican City on July 22, 2015. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

Gov. Jerry Brown was doing a series of interviews on climate change Wednesday when a local reporter asked him, “Are you Catholic?”

Brown’s acquaintances, including his wife, will tell you that he is. But the fourth-term governor, as a rule, does not like to discuss his religious practices.

“What does that mean, by the way?” he asked. “I’m not a Protestant. And I’m not a communist.”

The reporter laughed nervously, and first lady Anne Gust Brown stepped in on her behalf. It’s Vatican City, she pointed out, and “She’s just asking, ‘Are you a Catholic?’”

Brown suggested it is the confinement of a label – not religion – that he resists. Years ago, he studied Zen Buddhism in Japan.

“There’s a whole train of doctrines and beliefs, and I don’t want it to be understood that I’m ready to underwrite everything,” he said.

Brown mentioned that he once studied to become a Jesuit priest, and turning to Gust Brown, he joked, “We say you’re a Presbyterian, but I have some questions about that.”

The reporter tried another avenue, to greater effect. She asked Brown how faith has influenced his life.

“I think the formation that I’ve undergone growing up in the Catholic faith, the Catholic religion, puts forth a world that’s orderly, that has purpose and that ultimately is a positive,” Brown said. “And that’s very helpful when you look at a world that looks very much the opposite, in terms of the wars, the corruption and the breakdown. And so even though from an intellectual point of view it looks very dark, in another sense I have great faith and confidence that there is a way forward. And I would attribute that in some way to my Catholic upbringing and training.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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