The Split Among Catholics Deepens Under Trump

Trump's policies aren't causing the division, but exposing how deep it goes.

By John Zmirak Published on February 15, 2017

As I argued over the weekend, it is not true that theological conservatives within the Catholic hierarchy are seeking the support of the Trump administration in resisting Pope Francis’ aggressive efforts to change the Church. John Allen  — himself no conservative, but an honest and rational observer — debunked such fevered imaginings of the Washington Post in Crux:

What’s probably going on is this: [White House strategist Steve] Bannon is a ferocious cultural conservative, and thus when he was in Rome he reached out to people he suspected might be friendly. Without any need for coordination, in the meantime, he’s continued to pursue his agenda, and Catholics such as [Cardinal Raymond] Burke have pursued theirs.

In other words, the most plausible explanation is that the people who figure in this narrative are simply doing what they do, and the fact their activity sometimes overlaps shouldn’t be a surprise.

So there is no “vast right-wing conspiracy” on the Catholic right.

Trump Has Exposed Deep Fault Lines Inside the Church

That said, the election of a populist whose program is based in the kind of hard-headed prudence that guided Catholic statesmen over two millennia has provoked an intense fight within church circles.

Those Catholics who have privileged their own statist approach to “social justice” over traditional moral teaching, liturgy, and evangelization, are throwing a public tantrum. Some of them are using the institutional power which they are gaining under Pope Francis to tar the policies Donald Trump is proposing as “un-Christian,” in the hope of rallying millions of Catholic voters against the president.

Last week, in two separate pieces at The Stream, Jason Jones and I dissected the case made by prominent Jesuit Rev. James Martin that Trump’s attempts to enforce U.S. immigration law are contrary to the Gospel. We showed that Trump’s position is actually closer to the official church teaching on immigration than is Fr. Martin’s (or Pope Francis’).

Are Immigration Laws from the Antichrist?

But more and more voices from the entrenched Catholic left are emerging to throw similar accusations against the church’s wall, to see if they’ll stick. The widely distributed (free in the back of liberal churches) magazine U.S. Catholic weighed in with the following:

Pope Francis puts our responsibility toward refugees bluntly: “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

You might expect Christian leaders to applaud Trump’s proposed priority to religious minorities, presumably Christian minorities in majority Muslim countries. However, a “Christianity First” policy decries the central command of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is to love God and neighbor.

The question of solidarity within the Body of Christ aside, this high-minded sounding statement willfully ignores the fact that Middle Eastern Christians are the deliberate target of religious genocide, and that (unlike Sunni Muslims) they have absolutely no safe place to go in the region — while vast and wealthy Sunni Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia accept zero refugees, preferring to build mosques for refugees (staffed with Wahhabi Islamists) in Germany, France and Sweden.

Deal Hudson at Newsmax reports that one theologian, Prof. Charlie Camosy of (Jesuit) Fordham University in New York, has actually declared Donald Trump’s “America First” policy orientation a heresy, amounting to idolatry of our country over Christ.

Silencing Faithful Priests, Threatening their Livelihoods

Even worse, some left-wing clergy and bishops are trying to silence priests who reiterate more traditional Catholic views of politics, economics, immigration and foreign policy. They are tapping into the intense hatred that Trump and his “deplorable” supporters provoke among elites — including the ranks of prominent liberal priests, and the staffs of Catholic non-profit agencies that depend for much of their funding on federal government grants.

The Catholic left is almost indistinguishable from a theologically watered-down Mainline Protestant denomination, while conservative Catholics have far more in common with “low-church” evangelical Christians.

The conservative Catholic site OnePeterFive reports that New Jersey priest Fr. Peter West is being targeted by leftist Catholics, the secular press, and forces within his own archbishop’s office, for speaking out firmly on life and marriage issues, while dissenting from the manufactured leftist orthodoxy within many Catholic circles on economics, immigration and multiculturalism:

Unsurprisingly, the Archdiocese of Newark isn’t happy about Fr. West’s outspokenness. Jim Goodness, Communications Director for the Archdiocese now headed by one of Pope Francis’ newly-minted cardinals, Joseph Tobin, acknowledged Fr. West’s First Amendment rights, but took issue with them:

In a statement to NJ Advance Media, Goodness said the archdiocese would move to curtail West’s political pronouncements.

“Certainly, a priest doesn’t give up his civil liberties when he is ordained, and he maintains the same right to freedom of expression as anyone else in the United States,” Goodness said. “That said, we are concerned about Father West’s comments and actions, and will be addressing them according to the protocols of the Church.”

I wrote to Mr. Goodness last week to see if he would elaborate on the apparent plans to suppress Fr. West’s Internet speech. I also inquired asked which “protocols of the Church”, exactly, the Archdiocese would be invoking in this case, since Canon Law does not address the kind of political speech Fr. West is engaging in. Finally, I mentioned that some bloggers were speculating that Fr. West’s energetic activism in the pro-life movement, which at times brought him into conflict with high-ranking prelates like Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl, were the real motivation behind any forthcoming disciplinary action. “Would you be willing to address this concern,” I asked, “with an affirmation of support from the Newark Archdiocese for Fr. West’s pro-life work?”

The following day, Goodness responded to my three-paragraph inquiry with a single sentence: “That [sic] appears in the nj.com story is all that I am prepared to say on this matter at this time.”

OnePeterFive asked, perhaps rhetorically, whether action would be taken to address the social media postings of Fr. Alexander Santora, a prominent left-wing priest under the same NJ archbishop, who expressed support for pro-choice Hillary Clinton, denounced President Trump as “dangerous,” defended same-sex marriage and praised actively homosexual priests who were disciplined under previous popes.

Would Jesus Have Joined the Women’s March?

In other Church news, the Catholic Diocese of San Jose, California, published in its official newspaper, The Valley Catholic, an editorial arguing that Jesus would have marched in the pro-choice, anti-Trump “Women’s March” in January. As LifeNews reports, the column said:

For Catholics, the values of the march aligned particularly well with Catholic Social Teaching regarding respect for human rights, the common good, care for creation, and solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. It was an expression of deep faith in Christ and of active discipleship.

Mary Grunthaner of Transfiguration Parish said, “Christ taught us that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Him. Injustice must be resisted by those of us who have chosen to follow the Light of the World. Silence in the face of injustice is ignoring the call of Jesus.” Injustice in broad terms is anything that threatens human dignity, equality, and right to development, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, economic or immigration status.

The election of Donald Trump has laid bare a gaping chasm in Catholicism. Its activist left wing is fundamentally indistinguishable from a theologically watered-down Mainline Protestantism, while conservative Catholics have far more in common with “low-church” evangelical Christians. These affinities cannot help but be baffling to outsiders.

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  • Dean Bruckner

    Children of light and children of darkness, wheat and fares, good fish and bad fish, wise virgins and foolish virgins, rock builders and sand builders, good tree and bad tree, narrow path and broad way, choosers of life and choosers of death, those inside the ark and those outside the ark, Abel and Cain, sheep and goats … it was always this way.

    How many more ways can God tell us that those not in his household will perish?

  • Craig Roberts

    The divisions have been a part of the Church for years. The poor and working class Irish and Italian immigrants that naturally gravitated to leftist union politics to consolidate their power sowed the seeds of discord almost a century ago. Their ‘Cultural Catholicism’ has always trumped (pun intended) their commitment to the Church and its teachings. Kennedy, Pelosi, Biden, etc. are their legacy. If Hillary were elected we would still have a stark divide.

    • eddiestardust

      JFK & RFK would have been Republicans today.

      • Craig Roberts

        Good point. But they also might have followed Teddy to the dark side. Who knows how low they might go to hold on to power?

      • Chris C.

        I have my doubts about that. I think both would have adapted to the leftist tide within the Dem. party. Plus in 1964 a conference was held in Hyannis Port Mass. which included prominent liberal Catholic theologians and scholars, who scripted out the Dem. party justification for abortion on demand. While this of course was after the death of JFK, based upon his personal life, there is no reason to suppose he would have objected to this course of action.

      • Fr Eric

        perhaps JFK economically

    • KilkennyKid

      I am of working class Irish and Italian roots and practicing Catholic. I dare you to come to Fort Collins Colorado and say that to my face you bigoted a**hole.

      • Craig Roberts

        The truth hurts. Those ‘heroes’ never would have been elected without the help of the ‘catholic’ vote.

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    As I once commented in an earlier post by Mr. Zmirak, my exposure to catholicism prior to The Stream was mostly superficial. The architecture & statuary, alter boy abuse & “Mary worship” along w/a few doctrinal distinctions comprised most of my interest on the subject.
    While my appreciation for The Stream has if anything enlarged my capacity to embrace my catholic brethren it has also somewhat substantiated some concerns. These concerns however are not unique to the catholic segment of Christendom. They are variations on any number of idealogical themes which either compromise or strengthen the faith of it’s proponents. W/out noting any number of them, it should be safe to say they are only as viable to the advancement of the faith as they are consistent w/the faith. Problem is too many of the Masters advocates, from all traditions & lack of traditions as well are unwilling or unable to distinguish truth from fiction where scriptural precedent is involved. Yes, we all see some things thru a glass darkly. Those concepts which are more clearly seen are yet subject to further revelation. Here is the heart of the matter. The scripture was never designed solely for the advancement of our intellectual prowess. It is a revelation from a just & compassionate God & is meant to be “understood” as such. Jesus ONLY spoke what He heard the Father say. He ONLY did what he saw the Father do. We like the Master would do well to do likewise. Unlike the Master , our fellowship w/the Father is sometimes or oftentimes lacking. So, it seems the body of Christ on earth is only as profitable as it chooses to be. There will always be distinctions ,divisions & distractrations among this veritable group of denizens of a heavenly origin. Were Jesus to return to earth as a guest speaker in all the organized factions of His disjointed family, I suspect He would have quite a time getting too many points across that could be readily received by the indoctrinated majorities. Except of course for that part of the spiritual landscape that I choose to belong to …!!?

  • BTP

    There is a good reason why apocalyptic literature generally includes the observation that, at the End, everything will be laid bare. For every little apocalypse we see, it is the laying bare of facts too long ignored. The French discover their army is not what they thought it was in May of 1940; the people of Georgia discover their forces will not drive Sherman back to the mountains because they are not tougher than Union soldiers; Catholics discover their bishops were more interested in protecting the institution than in protecting kids.

    Trump is properly seen as an apocalyptic character, in that sense. He exposed the truth about establishment conservatives, he is exposing the truth about the priorities of the bishops, again.

    • Ronny61

      I think you said it very, very well. Truth is a beautiful thing no matter how disgusting or painful it is. It seems to me that there is a large segment of our population that either does not love the truth or, when confronted by an obvious truth, they object to how the truth was revealed. It is sort of like objecting to Galileo’s discoveries because they were not properly vetted. Again, truth is beautiful, and it is always spiritual.

  • c me once

    Fr. James Martin is so far off from Catholic theology, he should have to go back and learn. It’s heresy what he is doing to those he reaches.

    • Wayne Cook

      Typical of Jesuits. They started the Liberation Theology in South America too. Terrorists in black frocks.

  • samton909

    See the headlines at Father James Martin’s AMERICA magazine lately? It is headline after headline having to do with Trump. For a supposedly religious magazine, they sure do Democratic Party politics a lot. But of course, wikileaks taught us that many of the supposed left wing “Catholic” groups are nothing more than Democratic party fronts, so maybe America is too.

    • faithful

      Nice … I agree

  • Henry Bowers

    Ignore the idiot Left. They are lost.

  • faithful

    The prince of this world is sowing his seed and those following.. are in for a hell of ride. We fight not against flesh and blood but against powers, against world rulers of this present darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly place…the church (the bride of Christ) needs to REPENT for our lackadaisical attitude towards Godliness and PRAY for revival.

  • Thunder Paws

    Well, I consider myself a conservative Catholic but my affinity certainly doesn’t rest with evangelicals. I am comfortable with Western and Eastern Christianity and would find far more common ground with Byzantine Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

    • Fr Eric

      of course

  • bruce m

    Congratulations to Fr. Peter West. In 1985-1986 I met Fr. West in The South Bronx where we both worked for the Missionaries Of Charity Sisters- Mother Teresa’s Order Thank God for pro-life priests like Fr’Peter West!

  • bluemoonrambler

    I recently experienced the divide when I walked out of church following a deacon’s haughty, supercilious left-wing political lecture on “refugees”–disguised as a homily. This deacon told me some years ago that he could easily convert to Islam.

  • john

    A split is a good thing. Anyone who truly listens to Pope Lenin, er, Francis, and his never ending heresies, isn’t really Catholic. The pervert-enabling “pope” hates the fact that we have a President who seemingly isn’t part of the poisonous NWO-liberty crushing sect.

  • Fr Eric

    The pain is watching our Catholic faithful and clergy allow the tentacles of the very anti-Christian left and bombastic “populism” into our parishes. Prior to the election, I told my people we are dealing with opposite sides of the same coin of raw power; private sector vs public sector of political channels of last 50 yrs. I am more leery of the latter, but I do not jump on any wagon of raw financial power that ignores human needs. As a pastor who regularly preaches pro-life and has watched hard working and faithful parishioners be deported, and almost immediately receive persons who flee as refugees from cartels in MX, I know that people are scared. Unity is in Christ not in the “diversity and multicultural” lie of the left. We need to place all hope in Christ Jesus and think clearly with wisdom that only comes from God. Hopefully we can have laws that actually facilitate a solution. Catholics who truly live it are often in the middle. We really don’t have a political home.

  • Live wire

    This is what bothers me when Pope Francis says “if people come to your country and you deny them you’re a hypocrite ” (paraphrasing). The way I view it is nobody is saying immigrants can’t come to America, but what makes a Mexican more worthy to be an American because the person logistically can come illegally than the person from Sierra Leone who’s been mtrying for years, through the legal approach, but is turned away because there does come a point where the country cannot support this massive influx of low skilled workers on their health care system, criminal system, educational system etc.

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