Opinion Thomas Reese: Signs of the Times

The Catholic bishops’ honeymoon with Trump is over

U.S. Catholic bishops listen as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory speaks during a Mass on June 14, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(RNS) — Although many evangelical ministers warmly embraced Donald Trump as the Republican Party presidential candidate, the U.S. Catholic bishops never publicly endorsed him. They did express strong support for some of his positions — for example, his opposition to abortion and his support for religious freedom. That, together with their negative response to the views of Hillary Clinton, made many observers believe that although the bishops did not publicly endorse him, they were happy to see him elected.

Their happiness was evident with the reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy,” a U.S. government policy that bans international organizations from receiving federal funds if they sponsor abortions. Likewise, the bishops supported Trump’s efforts to deny taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood. They also approved his executive order instructing federal agencies to respect the religious freedom of believers and their organizations. Most importantly, they were delighted with his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court because of their expectation that he will be a pro-life justice.

But the relationship between Trump and the Catholic bishops appears to be a marriage of convenience rather than the love affair he has with evangelical ministers. Already there have been some public spats.

President Trump on July 24, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Most recently, in response to the events at Charlottesville, the bishops have established an ad hoc committee against racism. The chair of the committee, Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, said, “Recent events reveal yet another reminder of what can be traced back to the original sin of the United States: racism.” Other bishops, like Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, also spoke out in a way that could be interpreted as critical of the president’s wishy-washy response to Charlottesville. “There can be no equivocating,” Cupich wrote in his archdiocesan newspaper. “Racism is a sin. White supremacy is a sin. Neo-Nazism is a sin.”

This is not the bishops’ first break with President Trump.

At the beginning of February, the bishops found it “troubling and disappointing” that he did not roll back the Obama executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity. Here Trump was more liberal than the Catholic bishops. Nor has he yet dealt with their concerns about the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

But what really bothers the bishops is the president’s actions on immigration and refugee policy. During the first seven months of the Trump administration, the bishops issued over 20 statements on the treatment of immigrants and refugees, all of them very critical of the Trump administration.

Nor did they mince their words.

The bishops said they were “disheartened,” “deeply troubled,” “deeply concerned” and “disappointed” by the president’s actions on immigration and refugees. They worried about “bigotry,” “fear and intolerance.” The president’s actions were “alarming,” “devastating” and “injurious.” He was putting people “in harm’s way” and making “migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.” They protested the president’s executive order that “virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program,” which affected resettlement programs run by the church.

The president’s policies, they complained, “needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us, break down the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities.”

These are not love notes. They are the shrill cries of a spouse who feels her children are being neglected and abused.

Likewise, the Catholic bishops, who had not supported Obamacare because of their concerns about abortion and birth control, failed to come to Trump’s assistance in its repeal. During the first seven months of this year, they strongly argued in 11 statements against repeal of Obamacare unless something better for the poor were enacted. They especially fought any rollback in the expansion of Medicaid or subsidies to low-income people buying insurance, which were at the heart of the Republican plans.

“To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating,” said the bishops in July. “The American Health Care Act legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Better Care Reconciliation Act from the Senate were seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways. In the face of difficulties passing these proposals, the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement.”

The bishops are exhibiting all the signs of a potential breakup with Trump. The honeymoon is over. Corporate America is already distancing itself from Trump as if he were a lame duck with no future. Even Republican members of Congress are grumbling. Since in the bishops’ minds this marriage never took place, it may be easy for them to quietly climb out of bed and disappear into the night. They have gotten most of what they wanted out of the liaison; it is time to move on before it is too late.

(The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service)

About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

23 Comments

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  • 1. Evangelical support for Trump is not monolithic. “Liberty University Grads Return Their Diplomas Because of Donald Trump’s comments and his overt racism.”
    2. Catholic bishops were hyperbolic, dishonest and vociferous in their criticism of Clinton/Kaine. 60% of white Catholics chose Trump. Important because while Trump carried the South as expected, it was Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan which gave him the election.
    3. No bishop has offered any of his properties as sanctuaries for immigrants, fulfilling their promise to Trump at his election that their pro-immigration efforts would “honor and respect the laws of this nation.”
    4. According to the photos on this website, no Catholic clergy or hierarch are to be seen in any public protest against this administration.
    5. Yes, indeed. “Corporate America is already distancing itself from Trump as if he were a lame duck with no future. Even Republican members of Congress are grumbling.” So now it’s safe for the U.S. episcopate to do the same as their benefactors.

  • The modern single minded absolutest view on abortion has lead the Catholic Church into many problematic positions with unintended consequences. None of this has advanced the cause of Christ much. The Church won’t be able to get off this unfortunate detour until it finds a way to rethink its understanding of the right to life. It’s worth remembering that heresies always begin with a bit of truth, but then its implications get explored and so pushed to extremes that the truthfulness gets distorted and no longer works.

  • Who cares considering that Catholicism is founded on myth? Trump is reality like him or not.

    Again, why all religions to include Catholicism/Christianity fail in the world of reality:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • You know what the scary part is, Mr. Rational? I’m actually finding your pitiful screed to be 10 times more interesting than this “Catholic Bishops’ Honeymoon” pitiful screed.

    (But you may want to start working on some fresh material, yes? Never be totally predictable.)

  • And the “honeymoon” true Catholics had with the Vatican and the Bishops is coming to an end.
    We realize that the “marxist globalist anti-Christ individuals” in the hierarchy are selling us out to the forces of evil.

  • I suspect that the Bishops’ experience of corporate religious practice has left them ill-equipped to deal with God.

  • Actually, I don’t think it can be viewed as quite that …ummmm legitimate….ummm sacramental. It was just an affair that they now regret.

  • The fruit of that relationship was the election of Donald Trump. Something was borne out of that relationship between Catholic bishops and right-wing politics. “Sex” of some sort was going on – at least allegorically.

  • “Since in the bishops’ minds this marriage never took place, it may be easy for them to quietly climb out of bed and disappear into the night.”

    They may try to be quiet about it, but there are a few people who will point out clearly and repeatedly that the bishops had been in bed with that misogynistic, xenophobic, racist, narcissist when they knew exactly who he was. They knew exactly what he thought about immigration and immigrants – and they decided that other issues were more important. They chose their religious freedom to discriminate against LGBT people over immigrants. They chose their ability to dominate and control people when it came to contraceptives and traded away health care for millions.

    It wasn’t a marriage. It was an illicit affair carried out in front of tens of millions. They will not “quietly climb out of bed and disappear” because they acted in the clear light of day and we have flashlights to keep them visible for when they try to turn off the lights and sneak away.

  • If you are faithful as a Catholic, as a Jew or as anything that considers aid to the poor, sick, elderly or marginalized to be an obligation to God, Trump’s behavior has to be anathema and you have to speak out. The USCCB has spent too much time in bed with the GOP and not enough time with the gospels. Jesuswas pretty clear about where they were supposed to go. Trump does not live there nor does the right wing of American political thought. It is about time the bishops stopped being pet poodles.

  • The Catholic bishops’ problem with racism is an afterthought. OK, I have to admit to a prejudice: when i see pictures of an all male assembly of bishops in their splendor I feel disgust. No women. Narrow minds. Careerists trained in blind obedience in place of moral reasoning and discernment. A limited group with a limited moral vision, not to be trusted. The article casually mentions without any difficulty that their notion of “religious freedom” means using the “sword” of the government to enforce discrimination aginst certain citizens, denying those citizens the same rights that every citizen should enjoy. And I see nothing coming from those bishops to contradict my impression of them.

  • “Evangelical support for Trump is not monolithic.”
    Oh, please.
    There is nowhere near the degree of disaffiliation among evangelicals that there is among Catholics. On the Sunday news circuits, Falwell and other’s are official spokespersons for the administration, recommended by the administration to the networks.The numbers of evangelical support remains almost constant.

    We Catholics do not need to wait for our bishops to lead the way against Trump. But you are in radical denial about evangelical Christians. Nor do we need evangelical Christians lecturing us on our bishops and on our faith. There’s a really bad history there, and it’s not from both sides.

  • Jerry Falwell Jr. is president of Liberty University where “Grads Return Their Diplomas Because of Donald Trump’s comments and his overt racism.”
    “Young Christians who describe themselves as theological conservatives don’t necessarily identify as political conservatives, although some who do are also horrified by Trump.” The Atlantic
    There is no poll which shows that support for Trump among the 60% of white Catholics who voted for him is any less “constant” that his support among other Christians.
    I’m going to wait for more facts and less bias.

  • Catholics, in latest most accurate count voted for Clinton 48% to 45%.
    https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/04/06/new-data-suggest-clinton-not-trump-won-catholic-vote.

    Secondly, why do you need to denigrate Catholics to make your point about evangelicals. It was gratuitous and you should apologize.

    Thirdly, you conveniently spoke of white Catholics vs. other Catholics. Our church is not divided that way. I am a Eucharistic Minister. When I deliver Holy Communion at the hospital where I serve, I see everyone. Hispanics, Irish, Italian, African American, German Catholics, are all there at Mass together or receiving Communion in their hospital rooms, without distinction.

    You know this is not the case with evangelical Christians. You are being dishonest.

    Finally, say whatever the hell you want about evangelicals who voted at around 78% for Trump, but leave us alone. We have our own problems, and we’re still attempting to heal, to reconcile, to forgive.
    So, back off!

  • Not the “most accurate count”! The America Magazine numbers were based on data collection for the ANES 2016 Time Series Study began in early September and continued into January, 2017. Pre-election interviews were conducted with study respondents during the two months prior to the 2016 elections and were followed by post-election reinterviewing beginning November 9, 2016. As we all know, Clinton’s polling was high across the board if you look at Sept. through Jan. as an inclusive period.
    Then you quote the exit poll number (actually 81%) for evangelicals voting for Trump while professing a belief that the same exit poll wasn’t an accurate representation of the Catholic vote? The fact that 19% did not vote for Trump proves my earlier statement that Evangelical support for Trump isn’t monolithic.
    Please quote my exact words that you think “denigrate Catholics.”

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