"A good Catholic," Pope Francis says, "meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern." It seems like a straightforward proposition put forth by the universal leader of the Catholic Church, a sentiment that has been communicated in some way or another by his recent predecessors.
But this past week, meddling in politics has become a "scandal" for some of my fellow Catholics, who’ve tried to spin a 2011 private email conversation between friends into something far more nefarious. In the alleged stolen email threads, John Podesta - who now chairs Hillary Clinton’s campaign - and some of his progressive colleagues have a candid conversation about the internal workings of the Catholic Church.
Since the release of these stolen five-year-old emails by WikiLeaks weeks before the November election, many conservative critics have suggested that these conversations represent damning evidence of a wide-ranging "anti-Catholic" conspiracy to undermine and destroy the church. Ross Douthat of the New York Times cast them as an entry in a "Catholic civil war," and prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and members of Donald Trump’s campaign have called upon Clinton to apologize for the supposed bigotry in the conversation. Others claimed the progressive Catholic groups mentioned are fake, or worse, secretly anti-Catholic.
It’s absolute malarkey. And I would know: Since November 2013 - nearly three years after the emails were sent - I’ve been the executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), one of the groups mentioned in the emails.
I take accusations of being part of an anti-Catholic conspiracy personally, because there’s nothing that matters to me and my colleagues more than our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for the Catholic Church. In short, it’s everything to me. So let’s set the record straight: Every day, our group works tirelessly to promote the social mission of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in American politics, media and culture.
My group lives in the almost impossible position of trying to exhort fellow Catholics to respond to the social teaching of the church, which guides us to lift up the poor and oppressed, while working within a generally secular progressive movement that isn’t friendly to our views on the sanctity of life. For nearly a decade, the abortion rights community has railed against CACG’s consistent support for the dignity of the unborn child. In 2009, Catholics for Choice released a scathing 30-page report on how we were working to build an antiabortion movement within progressive politics.
Then, in 2013, conservative Catholic activist Bill Donohue called us a "bogus Catholic entity" because we said Rush Limbaugh was wrong to rip Pope Francis as a practitioner of "pure Marxism." Our group was once derided as "radical right wingers" and a "lapdog for liberals" by two different national commentators in a single month; and this past summer, I was accused of being a "feminist" on Fox News one week and a "mansplainer" in the Huffington Post the next week.
If we’re nothing but surrogates for the Democratic Party and shills for Clinton bent on collapsing the church from within, we probably should be fired, because we’re doing a pretty bad job.
In July, we fought tooth and nail to stop the Democratic Party? from ditching the Hyde Amendment. When they refused to, we said it was growing evidence that Democrats were slowly defying their progressive ideals to become a "party of exclusion." Catholics are right to strongly protest Clinton and the Democratic Party’s hard-line position on abortion. As we’ve said time and again, we think there’s nothing progressive about abortion. But if conservatives are going to be quick to deride Clinton’s campaign as "anti-Catholic," they should take an honest look at Trump before doing so.
In March, a group of conservative Catholic intellectuals wrote in the National Review that Trump was "manifestly unfit" to be president of the United States and that his campaign was "offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility." Trump has no history of any antiabortion action - indeed, he’s self-identified as "very pro-choice" in the past - and as recently as March maintained that women who have abortions should be punished, a view held by few if any in the mainstream antiabortion movement. Trump has been openly hostile toward immigrants and refugees throughout his campaign, going so far as to suggest banning Muslims from entering the United States. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has called on Christians worldwide to accept refugees into their countries and homes, and has invited several Syrian refugees to live in the Vatican. As for that border wall Trump has promised? When, back in February, the pope said that good Christians build bridges instead of walls, Trump called him "disgraceful." And that wasn’t the only time Trump had taken shots at a pope: In a February of 2013 radio interview, he said Pope Benedict XVI — a meek, thoughtful pope considered by many Catholics, myself included, to be a hero of our faith — "should just give up and die. He looks so bad."
Trump’s entourage hasn’t been much better. Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chief executive, claimed that Catholics only support hospitality toward immigrants and refugees because "the church is dying"; and Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson tweeted in 2011 that it’s "sad" that Catholics believe the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, attempted to pressure local Catholic charities into refusing refugees aid during his tenure as governor. Add in Trump’s recently released lewd remarks and the mounting allegations of sexual assault levied against him, and it’s impossible to argue that Trump is a good ambassador for Catholic values in public life.
To me, it’s pretty clear: If conservatives want to fight for Catholic values in this election, then perhaps they should save their fire for a candidate who doesn’t praise Russian President
Vladimir Putin and slam the pope.
Catholics can disagree on our politics. And we should: That’s a sign of a healthy culture of debate within the church. Genuinely Catholic politics should challenge both Democrats and Republicans - because our love of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church always goes before politics. To me, there’s no doubt that Trump’s vision for the United States represents a greater threat to the practice of our faith than those of us who take seriously Pope Francis’s message on the dignity of life, the scandal of poverty and the need to tackle immigration reform and climate change.
Given Trump’s trouble with Catholics at the polls, it’s no surprise that he and his allies are fabricating a falsehood about anti-Trump Catholics trying to divide and destroy the church we love.
Don’t fall for it for a second. No candidate has won the White House without winning the Catholic vote since 1972. And if Donald Trump continues down the same path this year, he’ll lose both in record fashion.
Christopher Jolly Hale is a co-founder of the Catholic webzine Millennial Journal and executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Keywords: trump and catholics, the catholic church and politics, american catholics and politics