The U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Election of Donald Trump

November 14, 2016 at 10:19 am | Posted in Catholicism, Climate Change, The Hierarchy, U.S. Politics | 11 Comments
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When I began writing this article in my head, I envisioned accusing the U.S. Catholic bishops of colluding by their silence in the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

But as I began researching the matter, I realized that the bishops actually colluded in Trump’s election, that is, by what they said about the election, as well as by their silence about it.

Now let me be clear: I am not suggesting that every Catholic bishop in the United States colluded personally in Trump’s election. A few may have raised questions about him or his policies and statements. What I aim to indict here is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its leaders, who are elected by and represent the American bishops.

In truth, the USCCB did not say or publish a great deal about the election. But what they did publish is very telling. On October 13, four weeks before the presidential election, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, the president of the USCCB, issued a “news release” under the heading “The Gospel Serves the Common Good, Not Political Agendas.” Here are the first two sentences of the first paragraph of that ”news release.”

“At this important time in our nation’s history, I encourage all of us to take a moment to reflect on one of the founding principles of our republic – the freedom of religion. It ensures the right of faith communities to preserve the integrity of their beliefs and proper self-governance.”

The second paragraph elaborates on the fact that the truths of the faith are not formed by a consensus of contemporary norms. The third paragraph calls on public officials to respect the rights of people to live their faith without interference from the state. And a middle sentence of the last paragraph says, “Too much of our current political discourse has demeaned women and marginalized people of faith.”

A priest friend recently said that the bishops could not speak out against Trump because it would be a violation of the separation of church and state. But this “news release” clearly speaks out for Trump, or if not Trump per se, then for the Republican candidate for president who was, in fact, Trump. This is so because the words “freedom of religion” are code for the culture wars agenda that the bishops have pushed throughout the Obama administration. “Freedom of religion” of course, means the bishops’ freedom to deny gay people the right to marry and adopt children and to deny women the reproductive health covered under the Affordable Care Act. Certainly this statement, and the court cases the USCCB have backed in recent years, are nor referring to the “religious freedom” of American Catholic women, the vast majority of whom report using or having used artificial contraceptives while sexually active.

It is also worth noting that the word “immigrants” appears nowhere in Archbishop Kurtz’s statement, although Donald Trump’s statements about Mexican immigrants contradict Catholic social teaching and were rebutted by Pope Francis.

The next “news release” from Archbishop Kurtz on behalf of the USCCB appeared the day after the election. The first two paragraphs congratulate Donald Trump and other elected officials, call for unity and acknowledge that “millions of Americans who are struggling to find economic opportunity for their families voted to be heard.”

The longest and most substantive paragraph, however, begins with the following sentence: “The Bishops Conference looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end.” It includes in that category of human life “all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life…migrants and refugees…(and) Christians and people of all faiths suffering persecution around the world, especially in the Middle East.” Then the final and longest sentence in the paragraph says,

“And we will look for the new administration’s commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form.”

I would argue that this “news release,” like the October one, makes quite clear that the most important thing about the election of President Trump is his working with the bishops on “life” issues and “religious freedom,” that is, outlawing abortion, depriving women of basic reproductive health care and gay people of their rights. Trump’s commitment to turning back already inadequate climate change regulations and deporting perhaps millions of the members of the growing majority group in the U.S. church are secondary.

Two events provide context for these statements. First, on the Sunday before the election, a Catholic priest, Frank Pavone, head of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, held an aborted fetus up over an altar, with a crucifix behind it, and spoke out in favor of Donald Trump and the Republican platform because of their position on abortion. By Monday evening, the night before the election, the released  video of Pavone and the fetus had several hundred thousand views.

The diocese of which Pavone is a priest, Amarillo, Texas, issued a statement saying that they were opening an investigation into Pavone’s actions and that his actions and the presentation in the video that he released are inconsistent with the Catholic faith. The archdiocese of New York, where the Priests for Life organization is located, stated that it does not have a relationship with Pavone and has no comment on the video. There has been no news from the Amarillo Diocese since, nor any further comment from the archdiocese. The video seems to have been taken down.

Then two days after the election, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and of a major Vatican secretariat under Benedict XVI, in an interview published in the Italian conservative daily Il Giornale, said that President-elect Donald Trump will uphold Christian values, and that he doesn’t “think the new president will be inspired by hatred in his handling of the immigration issue.” Burke went on to state that Trump understands the fundamental vales that are of importance to Catholics and will do everything he can to fight abortion.

To be fair, one U.S. bishop, Mark Seitz of El Paso, spoke out after the election about his concern for “brother and sister refugees and migrants who have escaped …unimaginable violence and suffering in their home countries…about our bothers and sisters who are Muslim who may be singled out…” But even this was after first expressing his joy that those at the first stages of their lives prior to birth would be receiving more protection. At least when he segued into his concern for refugees and migrants, Bishop Seitz began the sentence with “but,” acknowledging that the election of Donald Trump brings with it certain tensions, not to say contradictions. I have been unable to find anything from any other bishop, and certainly not from the USCCB itself, that was nearly as strong as Seitz’s statement.

Let me conclude, then, by making a few obvious points. Donald Trump has been divorced twice—the only president in the history of the country for whom that is the case. He has claimed the right, on a widely viewed video, to assault women sexually, and has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by twelve or thirteen women. I myself strongly suspect that he has paid for abortions for more than one of the many women he has forced himself on sexually over the years. Why wouldn’t he have done so?

Trump has also called Mexicans criminals and rapists, and promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. And let’s be clear, many of these are the same people who are  saving the U.S. Catholic Church from the plummeting memberships that afflict mainline Protestant denominations. Trump is also planning to revoke the nuclear arms deal the Obama administration forged with Iran–one of the most significant steps away from nuclear war in recent years. And he has declared the global climate catastrophe about which Pope Francis, the head of the universal Catholic Church, has spoken out in galvanizing and unambiguous terms, to be a hoax.

This is the man whom Cardinal Burke believes, and that almost all his brother U.S. bishops seem also to believe, is going to uphold Christian values? Seriously?








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  1. Thank you again, Marian, for your clarity. Freedom of religion co-opted as code for oppressive, harmful and hateful policies that have devastating impact on all women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ persons, all non-Christians–especially Muslims, the poor, and the reality of religious pluralism.


    • Thanks so much for reading this article and responding to it, Pam.


  2. Really terrific, (and angering). I’m going to share it with a group of retired catholic school teachers who meet regularly here in cincinnati. well, i guess that his catholic supporters were played on that abortion thing cause he has already walked that back, saying it’s a done deal. I wonder how many hispanic voters were swayed by his condemnation of abortion. Many grail folks here in cincinnati attended a fund raiser yesterday for casa de paz, a battered women’s shelter for Latina women. We heard many tearful stories from women now terrified about deportation.


  3. Thank you, Marian to highlight the stand of the USCCB in relation to the election of Trump as president. The issue of “freedom of religion” has angered me since the discussion and reality of Obamacare; the “prayer novena’s” around the 4th of July I felt as an attack on the individual conscience of people. To name this issue “culture wars” is helpful to me.Thank you for your clarity on this multi sided issue.
    Lenie schaareman


  4. Thank you for stating in such a clear way why I have been so angry with the Church during this election. The views expressed by Donald Trump during this campaign were so filled with hate. How the Catholic Church could align itself with a man favored by the KKK is shocking. I do not know whether I can even attend Mass. Jj


  5. Very powerful, though I must say that the middle sentence you refer to, “Too much of our political discourse has demeaned women and marginalized people of faith” seems to those who don’t know the ‘code’ to be a good statement, especially as Muslims too are people of faith.
    The fact that the bishops use ‘freedom of religion’ to defend their positions on gay marriage and not supporting Obamacare is horrifying to me, and those who support Trump thinking he will do anything they want are idiots. take care, Margaret


  6. Great piece Marian.

    I heard this on a call-in on Brian Lehr’s radio show – WNYC (public radio)

    A Eucharistic (no sure on the spelling) female minister said she was leaving her Catholic church because people brought flags to Mass & the priest basically said “well done” to the congregation. No one is pro-abortion – but things happen – and it has to be available for those times. Don’t kill fetuses but its OK to subject them to a life without chances & throw them in jail. The more I read…Deborah Silvestri


  7. Thank you, Marian, for this very comprehensive article.
    We need to challenge our bishops to live and promote the Gospel of love and stop collaborating with those who discriminate against the majority of Ammericans and certainly of Catholics.


  8. Marian, I have only come to your blog of late. I was so glad to read this post. My opinion piece on this subject appeared in the McAllen Monitor on Dec.25th under this title: COMMENTARY: Catholics compromised themselves in voting for Trump. I see your blog post is dated Nov.14th. I was disturbed by the fact that several Evangelicals called out their fellow Evangelicals for voting for Trump. But I shared with my wife that I hadn’t seen anyone calling out their fellow Catholics for voting for Trump. She said, “Then maybe you should write something.” And so I did. I look forward to reading your blog posts. David Jackson, Edinburg, Tx.


  9. I thought I would share what I wrote in my Commentary:

    Catholics compromised themselves in voting for TRUMP
    COMMENTARY | David Jackson
    What united a high percent of white Catholics and Evangelicals to vote for President Donald Trump was basic opposition to abortion. The Evangelical view of a connection between recognition of Jerusalem and the apocalypse has not been main stream thought in Catholicism.
    There has been strong fallout for Evangelicals after the chaotic election between Roy Moore, whom many of them supported, and his opponent and the ultimate winner, Democrat Doug Jones. A similar reaction has not been part of U.S. Catholicism.
    Underscoring the Evangelical fallout, editor Mark Galli wrote in Christianity Today: “No one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”
    “Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals,” echoed theologian Miguel De La Torre in the Baptist News. “Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate. Evangelicals have constructed an exclusive interpretation which fuses and confuses white supremacy with salvation.”
    Finally New York Times columnist Russ Douthat wrote: “The story of American religion lately has been one of institutional decline, of Mainline Protestantism’s aging and Catholicism’s weakening and the rise of the so-called “nones.”
    He posed the question whether Evangelicals will survive the age of Trump. “Some evangelical voices think not….Whether the subject is the debauched pagan in the White House, the mall-haunted candidacy of Roy Moore or the larger question of how to engage with secular culture, there is talk of an intergenerational crisis within evangelical churches, a widening disillusionment with a Trump-endorsing old guard, a feeling that a crackup must loom ahead.”
    The time is ripe for the Catholics in the United States, especially the U.S. bishops, to take a hard look at “Catholicism’s weakening and the rise of so-called “nones.”
    What Mark Galli and Miguel de la Torre wrote about Evangelicals, I believe applies also to U.S. Catholicism: “No one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”
    In U.S. Catholicism statistics about the Sacraments, particularly baptism, Eucharistic attendance, marriage and anointing of the sick, reveal a continuing decline. (The decline would be even more obvious if not mitigated by the growth of Hispanic and Asian families.)
    Some of the decline must be attributed to the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis. Some of it also is connected to Millennials rejecting the church’s stance on pelvic issues.
    But this rejection is not limited to the millennial age group. The sense of the faithful has almost totally rejected the Catholic Church’s position on birth control.
    Abortion and religious liberty are where the U.S. bishops have put their money and energy. Recently there have been some meaningful positions taken on immigration and tax reform. But these positions seldom make it into Sunday preaching or even parish bulletins.
    We do hear quite often of the U.S. bishops’ reluctance to embrace Pope Francis. There is ever growing concern about the number of priests who are characterized as “Restorationists.”
    The most common definition of this term means not accepting the decrees and direction of the Second Vatican Council and restoring liturgical emphasis that existed prior to the Second Vatican Council.
    I have been frustrated with the emphases of the Catholic Church under the two previous popes. I write as a full supporter of Pope Francis and the direction he is taking the Catholic Church.
    David Jackson, of Edinburg, is a member of Call to Action/Rio Grande Valley and a parish leader of Valley Interfaith. He writes for The Monitor’s Board of Contributors.


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