The Split Among Catholics Deepens Under Trump
Trump's policies aren't causing the division, but exposing how deep it goes.
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.