Catholics in the Trump Era: Conflict and Cooperation

Joshua Ciccone


American democracy and Catholicism share a long history together since the Founding of the United States. Some speculate that Catholicism is incompatible with democracy, and thus any Catholic who lives in a democratic society is bound to fall into a conflict of interest between the temporal and spiritual authorities. 

The U.S. Government and the Catholic Church are currently on good terms. President Trump’s administration admires the work of the Church in the United States, and the Church admires many of the core values upheld in the White House. The Trump administration ushered in a new appreciation for the freedom of religion, and President Trump personally likes the values of education and peace encouraged by the Church.

One of President Trump’s first actions as president included recognizing National Catholic Schools Week. In February, 2017 President Trump supported the Church’s educational programs on the White House website, stating, “Your continued and sustained efforts are vital to our success and prosperity as a country.”

In March, 2017, President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and other dignitaries visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida. The Catholic Herald reported President Trump visited the school to show his support for school choice. “We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving,” President Trump said, “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic.”

On May 24, 2017, President Trump ended his tour of the world’s religions at the Vatican. The president, along with First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, met His Holiness, Pope Francis, in a private audience. President Trump and Pope Francis disagreed on the issue of the proposed border wall during the 2016 Presidential Election. 

The meeting between the two global leaders started out sternly, but by the end, both sides were laughing. First Lady Melania Trump, the first Catholic first lady since Jackie Kennedy, dressed in a black dress and veil. Although papal dress codes have been relaxed a little during Pope Francis’ papacy, the American leaders still showed reverence for the leader of the world’s most influential institution.

President Trump’s first year in office received challenges from the Catholic leadership at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Statements released included topics on immigration, abortion, net neutrality, climate change, international mining, and healthcare, according to America: The Jesuit Review.

According to the Crux, in April, 2018, President Trump announced that he would take measures to militarize the Mexican-American border. Catholic bishops in Mexico and the United States opposed the plan. In 2006, President George W. Bush sent 6,000 troops to the border from May 206 until July 2008, and President Barack Obama sent 1,200 National Guard troops in 2010 until 2012. The Crux noted that some in Congress criticized the plan, but three of the four states that actually border Mexico – Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas – support it.

Despite the conflicts between the Church and the Trump administration, common ground has been found on issues the issues of abortion and school choice. The Catholic Church does not operate on the limitations presented in the American political party system of the Republicans and Democrats, as the Church holds views that are in both of the parties’ platforms.

Jason Adkins, Executive Director at the Minnesota Catholic Conference, sat down for an interview on April 26, 2018 at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus to discuss the current status of the Catholic Church and the Trump administration. 

On the topic of immigration, Adkins noted that the term “amnesty” is not helping the immigration debate, stating that it is a “misleading” term. Immigrants have a right to “find a place of security and peace,” he said. 

When questioned about whether or not the Catholic Church believes illegal immigrants should receive rights, Adkins stated that the Church works to uphold the dignity of the human person, and that the reality is that current immigrants are here to stay. Illegal immigrants fled to the U.S., Adkins said, and he supported the idea of helping them get out of the shadows and integrated into American society.

Adkins stated that nations rich in resource should be generous to the cause of fleeing immigrants. Acknowledging that immigration can hurt the wages of native-born citizens, the matter of immigration extends to how the U.S. can aid in the stabilization of other nations, he said, to mitigate the reasons people may choose to migrate from their homeland.

Adkins rejected the notion that the Catholic Church is resisting the Trump administration, stating that the Obama administration received opposition from the Church in the past. In reference to President Trump as a leader, Adkins noted that the Church does take into account “character,” and that the “virtue of the office holder will affect his or her prudence as a statesman.” The character of President Trump, Adkins said, is a “point of concern.”

According to a Pew Research poll, 37% of Catholics identify as Republicans, and 44% as Democrats. The Democratic Party’s platform on abortion, same-sex marriage, and social values contradict the Catholic Church’s conservative teachings. Adkins stated that the Church continues to support its Catholic teachings, and that the statements made by Pope Francis on different issues should not alarm American Catholics. 

President Trump won the Catholic vote in the 2016 election, with 52% of Catholics voting for him. With social conventions on gender and sexual orientation changing, and the Church’s challenges to the Trump administration, the case for an increase in anti-Catholicism could be in the future of the United States. Anti-Catholicism has had a long history in the United States, and many anti-Catholic prejudices are still held in American culture.

Adkins stated that American Catholics are always aware of the “specter of anti-Catholicism,” and that challenges to American Catholicism in the present day comes mostly from secular society and the political left. A certain amount of challenges to the Church is good, he said, as it shows that the Church is doing its duty in preaching the Gospel of Christ. 

The future of the Catholic Church and the Trump administration in the United States for now is on a path for some success. President Trump’s admiration of the Catholic Church hopefully will help both sides come together to achieve a consensus on political issues in America. As President Trump looks toward reelection in 2020, the Catholic vote will be a very crucial victory needed if he is looking make his promise in making and keeping America great.