How will President-elect Donald Trump get along with Catholics?
The first thing that comes to mind, of course, was the collision he had last February with Pope Francis.
After visiting Mexico, and asked about the then-candidate’s proposal to build a wall, the Holy Father said (during one of those a-bit-too-suspenseful plane press conferences), “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.”
Though the Pope didn’t attack Trump by name, it was obvious whom he was indicating, and it elicited a strong reaction from Trump, who called the papal remark “disgraceful” (though also wondered if perhaps the Pope had been trapped into the answer). “No leader, especially a religious leader, has the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” he told a packed room at a golf course resort. Trump then accused the Mexican government of “using the Pope as a pawn.”
Will that exchange color the most politically powerful man’s view of Rome?
Perhaps. But, perhaps not of Catholics in general.
For the majority of U.S. Catholics who voted in the election did so for the soon-to-be chief executive (52 percent, where in the previous one they were solidly behind Obama). Usually Democratic, the Catholic vote went Republican.
Moreover, Newt Gingrich, a newly converted but staunch Catholic (we saw him at John Paul II’s canonization), is co-director of Trump’s transition team, and one of the president-elect’s first major appointments, Daniel Bannon, as special counselor, was born and raised Catholic. So too is radio host Laura Ingraham, who is rumored in line for White House press secretary.
Catholic radio and TV hosts such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who strongly supported Trump, are also practicing Catholics. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in line possibly for secretary of state, has been labeled a “pro-choice Roman Catholic.” The new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is Greek Orthodox.
Melania? According to the London Daily Mail, “In line with their father’s officially atheist Communist beliefs, Melania and her sister were not baptized and did not make their first Holy Communion with the other children, a decision which did not escape Catholic relatives.”
The key person be Bannon. Is he still a practicing Catholic? Like Giuliani, he has been married three times, and last March told a Princeton professor, “I understand why Catholics want as many Hispanics in this country as possible, because the Church is dying in this country, right? If it was not for the Hispanics. I get that, right? But I think that is the subtext of part of the letter, and I think that is the subtext of a lot of the political direction of this.”
That might be a bit worrisome.
Though he courted Catholic media in a last push for Catholic votes, Trump was far closer, throughout the campaign, with Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, appearing on many of their shows. Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell Jr. were among a multitude of Christian supporters (four of five white Evangelical voted for him), and one of his “spiritual advisers” was said to be prosperity minister Paula White [left], a controversial mega-preacher from Florida who once asked her flock to donate $1,144 as a “resurrection seed” (in order to obtain deliverance from “spiritual death”). With it came a prayer cloth that she said could cause “wonders and miracles.” She said the amount was set by God. And she had Trump’s ear (even visiting him at Trump Tower). The president-in-waiting also has expressed deep admiration for (and drew the support of) TV mega-preacher Joel Osteen (who lives in an opulent, $10-million home in Texas).
Meanwhile, the new vice president, Mike Pence, was raised Catholic and was once a youth minister (for a time, he even dabbled with the notion of becoming a priest). But while in college from 1978-81, he began blending his Catholicism with Evangelical Protestantism. “I made a commitment to Christ,” Pence has said. “I’m a born again, evangelical Catholic.”
If he is still at least partly Catholic, that would come as solace, for as an on-line commentator comments, “From the mass migrations of Catholics to the United States in the 19th century through the 1960s, Protestants and especially Evangelicals regarded Catholics as disloyal, superstitious idolaters. Many openly preached that the pope was the Antichrist. And it is widely understood that anti-Catholic sentiment doomed the presidential candidacy of Al Smith in 1928—and almost cost John F. Kennedy the election in 1960. Indeed, much of the twentieth century’s supposedly liberal, Protestant-led campaigns for the separation of church and state were, in fact, bitterly anti-Catholic.”
In many Evangelical circles, such beliefs, remain.
But Trump’s closeness with certain Catholics seems to offset any such concerns. Will he and the Pope “make up”? Or will there be an atmosphere of galimatias?
There are certainly differences in philosophies and lifestyles. The Pope has said he will watch to see how Trump treats the poor. Trump’s claim to fame is mega-wealth [below, one of his bedrooms, in a photo for the London Mail, versus the Pope’s, as recently shown in the London Telegraph.] A difference in lifestyle, for sure.
In the end, U.S. presidents and Popes always get along, at least in public. This doesn’t guarantee, however, that they will meet.
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[Special Reports by Michael Brown]
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