Last week’s gathering mixed traditional Catholic religious practices with moments that felt uncomfortably nationalistic. For instance, the gathering opened with a “Patriotic Rosary for the Consecration of our Nation” that included readings from George Washington and John Adams.
I was most disturbed by another reading in the rosary booklet from General Robert E. Lee that appealed to God “in the defense of our homes and our liberties, thanking Him for His past blessings, and imploring their continuance upon our cause and our people.” In 1863, “the cause,” was slavery, and the defense of Southern homes was armed resistance to the North. It is stunningly insensitive at best to mix up Lee and the Southern cause with the Holy Rosary, especially at a time when the “alt-right” and white nationalism are basking in the glow of renewed attention and proximity to power.
It was mostly, but not all, like that. Pitting the unborn against almost all of the rest of the Church’s teaching in service of the agenda of the Party of Trump took up a lot of the time but, to their credit, they did let Abp. Jose Gomez have his say:
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in the United States, represented a rare voice at the meeting to speak out strongly on an issue that challenges the Trump administration. President Trump touts the need for a “great, great wall” on the border, and immigration enforcement agents have moved aggressively to deport a wide swath of undocumented immigrants — including those brought to the United States as children and given protective status under the Obama administration. “What public policy purpose does it serve to take away daughters from their mothers and sons from their fathers?” the archbishop asked in a speech. “This is what we’re doing. We’re breaking up families.”
During the gathering, rarely if ever mentioned was how President Trump’s positions on the safety net for vulnerable families, health care, torture, bellicose rhetoric on nuclear weapons and treatment of Muslim refugees offend many Christian principles. “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee,” Pope Francis has said. In the fitting Trump International Hotel space, leaders appeared willing to look the other way on a range of justice issues central to Catholic teaching to emphasize the political window of opportunity on others, especially abortion, marriage and religious liberty.
Here’s the thing, nothing serious will be done about abortion, which will still be legal four and eight years from now, as will gay “marriage”. And “religious liberty” means, under Trump, religious liberty for Christians, not Muslims.
For this pot of message, conservative Catholics at this meeting are willing to sell their birthright of the gospel.
Conservative Catholics who feel emboldened in the Trump era will continue to strategize and look for political openings. But along the way they risk being relegated to cheerleaders for the administration if they downplay or ignore how poverty, the environment and the command to welcome migrants are central to traditional church teachings. Perhaps looking to Pope Francis, rather than Donald Trump, would be a good place to start.