(RNS) With the possible exception of his turnaround on Islam, the biggest religion news to come out of President Trump’s first trip abroad was the revelation that his wife is Catholic.
The story broke during the Trumps’ visit to the Vatican, when Pope Francis was seen blessing a rosary brought along by Melania and someone from the Daily Mail asked the question. Given the endless coverage of Ivanka and Jared’s Jewishness — to say nothing of Donald’s own religiosity (or lack thereof) — how can we not have known that we’ve got the first Catholic first lady since Jackie Kennedy?
Over at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly (surprise) blames the mainstream media’s religion-blindness. After all, a little poking around would have shown Melania sporting a rosary in a photo published in the Palm Beach Post on the occasion of her 2005 wedding (in an Episcopal church) to Donald.
But I suspect there’s more going on here than media negligence. It’s that pesky Catholic divorce and remarriage thing.
According to canon law, a marriage is not valid if one of the partners was previously married and the spouse is still alive and the previous marriage has not been annulled by the church.
Thus, when Newt Gingrich decided to marry his Catholic inamorata Callista Bisek, he obtained annulments of his previous two marriages (and subsequently converted to Catholicism himself).
Did Donald do likewise? If not … well, by traditional Catholic standards Melania is living in sin and should not receive Communion.
This has become a neuralgic issue in the church thanks to Francis’ 2016 exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” which much to the disgust of Catholic conservatives opens the door to allowing Communion for those in such invalid marriages.
Under the circumstances, you can understand why the Trump campaign — and, indeed, the Trump presidency — had an interest in suppressing Melania’s religious identity. And why Melania looks so uptight in her photos with the pope.
Since last week’s revelation, however, there has not been a peep from the Catholic right. No request for clarification of the Trumps’ marital status. No demand to know if and where Melania is taking Communion. No snarking at Francis for advancing his “Amoris Laetitia” agenda by acknowledging an invalid union.
Where’s Cardinal Burke when we need him?
Would the situation be different if, say, we were talking about the Catholic spouse of a pro-choice Democratic president?
Is the pope Catholic?
(Mark Silk, a contributing editor at RNS, writes the “Spiritual Politics” column)