Will Trump era create a conundrum for Catholics?
By CYNTHIA M. ALLEN | Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram | Published: February 17, 2017
Just a week ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to give the go-ahead for President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
Both the ruling, as some legal experts have warned, and the order itself are wrought with dangerous precedents, but the court’s decision has helped abate the hysteria surrounding the action, while the Trump administration determines its response. Still, the controversy continues to divide Americans and the politics are bleeding into our sacred spaces, churches included.
This month, a pastoral letter in response to the president’s policy from Bishop Michael Olson was read during all Masses in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas. Much of the letter discussed the need for compassion and openness to immigrants, and it reminded listeners of the scriptural texts that teach us to love and serve the least of these.
Church leaders are right to appeal to the better angels of their parishioners, especially when the issue is within the realm of church teachings.
The letter also opined on the policy content of the executive order, calling it both “radical” and “draconian.” In so doing, the bishop stepped into the murky territory where religion and politics meet.
The reception for Olson’s letter was mixed. In some Masses, applause; in others (I am told by friends), parishioners walked out.
There is room to debate the wisdom of the bishop’s strong denunciation of national security policy. But the letter raises another question: What is the responsibility of faithful Catholics during the Trump era?
Many Catholics voted for Trump, however reluctantly, based on his promise to restore religious liberties eroded by the Obama administration. To that end, the Supreme Court nomination for Neil Gorsuch, whose jurisprudence indicates he will be a strong defender of religious liberty, not only fulfills a promise but justifies their vote.
Similarly, Catholics who supported Trump solely on his perceived position on abortion have been vindicated by his first weeks in office. Days after his inauguration, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. funds from providing or promoting abortions overseas.
But as my progressive Catholic friends remind me (and as I have written before), being pro-life means more to Catholics than denouncing abortion. It means, among other things, caring for the immigrant and the refugee. While strong national security policy is not exclusive of a generous refugee policy, the ill conception and poor execution of Trump’s order further muddies the waters for many Catholics who find themselves elated by some of Trump’s decisions and morally burdened by others.
In fairness, such a conundrum is hardly new. Devout Catholics who vote for Democratic candidates tend to look the other way on issues like abortion and traditional marriage if other agenda items suit their beliefs. Indeed, Barack Obama won the Catholic vote in both 2008 and 2012.
But Obama’s failure to provide support for Syrian rebels (as recommended by the majority of Obama’s own national security team) or to set up safe zones in the surrounding regions cost thousands of innocent lives and significantly contributed to the refugee crisis that created the environment for Trump’s executive order and his election.
Why then, were so many of the Catholic voices now vocally opposed to the refugee policy silent when Obama allowed Syria’s Bashar Assad to commit a genocide on his own people? Where was the homily about the crossing of the now infamous “red line” Obama imposed warning Assad against using chemical weapons?
Does our Catholic moral responsibility not extend beyond our nation’s borders? Or, are these actually foreign policy and national security questions where the moral choices are extremely complicated and not always clear?
The coming years will present our nation with many moral quandaries. Catholics should act according to our faith. Welcome the refugee with love, but understand they would prefer not to be a refugee in the first place.
Cynthia M. Allen is a Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist.