Why the Catholic Bishops Were Wrong to Cozy Up To Trump

On Sunday, Christopher White reported:

President Donald Trump identified himself as the “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church” in a conference call for Catholic leaders and educators Saturday, where he warned that issues at stake in the upcoming presidential election, particularly on abortion and religious liberty, “have never been more important for the Church.”

Trump also pledged support for Catholic schools in light of the global coronavirus pandemic.

In an audio recording of the meeting obtained by Crux, the president repeatedly emphasized his support for the pro-life movement and school choice, attempting to paint a stark contrast between his administration and what a Democratic presidency could mean for Catholics.

John Gehring writes:

None of the Catholic leaders challenged the president’s cruelty toward immigrants, denial of climate change, cuts to food assistance or his pattern of racist demagoguery. This was a missed opportunity to speak truth to power.

Catholic teaching can’t be reduced to a single issue. Pope Francis is unequivocal that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred,” in his words, as the unborn in the womb.

At times, the call exuded the bonhomie of an old boys club. The president praised Cardinal Dolan as a “great friend,” adding that he always respects what the cardinal “asks for.” Dolan responded that “the feelings are mutual sir,” joking that the two speak so frequently that his elderly mother complains “I call you more than I call her.”

Trump tweeted about the call the next day, saying he would be tuning in to watch Dolan preside over Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then, on Monday, Dolan appeared on Fox News to deliver more praise. “I really salute his leadership,” the cardinal said about a president who recently speculated that Americans might ingest disinfectant to combat COVID-19 and who routinely mocks reporters that challenge his misinformation. Dolan specifically thanked Trump for his sensitivity to “the feelings of the religious community.”

While it’s not unusual for faith leaders to engage with the White House during Democratic and Republican administrations, Catholic bishops should be mindful not to lean on the electoral scales as they have done in the past….

When bishops met last fall to discuss a non-partisan voter reflection guide they release before every presidential election, the hierarchy overwhelmingly approved a document that highlighted abortion as the “preeminent priority” for Catholics. Several bishops publicly objected, insisting that language does not reflect the more expansive, consistent ethic articulated by Pope Francis, who views climate change, opposition to the death penalty, economic inequality and care for migrants as central life issues.

But those U.S. bishops most closely aligned with the Pope didn’t win the argument. “We are at a unique moment with the upcoming election cycle to make a real challenge to Roe v. Wade, given the possible changes to the Supreme Court,” Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample bluntly said in what could be read as a de-facto endorsement of Trump during the bishops’ meeting.

Don’t be surprised if you see that language recycled in Trump campaign advertising targeted at Catholic voters in the Midwest, where the president’s re-election prospects could be decided in Catholic-heavy states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.