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As Outrage Piles up, Trump Struggles Among Catholics

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As Outrage Piles up, Trump Struggles Among Catholics

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Hours before the Oct. 9 presidential
debate began, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani invoked St. Augustine of
Hippo on a Sunday morning political news show to defend the man he was
supporting for president.

“Ever read ‘The Confessions’ of St. Augustine?” Giuliani asked John Dickerson,
the host of “Face the Nation,” referring to the autobiographical book
about St. Augustine’s sinful past and his subsequent conversion. “Men can
change, people can change.”

Hours later, Donald Trump, the embattled Republican presidential nominee he was
defending, was defiant in St. Louis during the second of three presidential
debates against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump spent the weekend
dealing with public backlash, including watching members of his own party
withdraw endorsements for his presidency following the release of various video
and audio recordings where he is heard making lewd comments about women. In one
of the recordings, Trump, who had been married for months to his third wife at
the time of the incident, speaks of his intention to have sex with a different
married woman.

Giuliani, who said that as a Catholic he understood contrition and the resolve to do
better after a person has done something wrong, seemed like the lone political
voice defending Trump. Republican House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a Catholic, said
he was “sickened” by Trump’s comments and withdrew his invitation
from their first event together in Wisconsin and said a day after the debate
that he “won’t defend” his party’s candidate.

The Boston-based group Catholic Democrats condemned Trump’s comments in an Oct. 8 press release and called on members of his Catholic advisory group to resign.

“As Catholics, we have a special obligation to make our voices heard when we see any individual use a position of power to sexually exploit another,” said Steve Kruger, the
group’s president.

In response, two members of the advisory group, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, and Janet Morana, co-founder of the Silent No More Campaign, issued a statement saying: “Aside from saying ‘no, and hell no,’ we want to issue a call of
our own. The members of Catholic Democrats should resign,” they said, for supporting
the Democratic platform, “which undermines foundational aspects of church

“We do not condone lewd words or actions in anyone’s personal life, or any mistreatment of women,” their statement said. “It is for that very reason that we are even more concerned that the Democratic Party institutionalizes morally offensive
behavior, including abortion, homosexual activity, and the depraved view of
human sexuality that is put forward by Planned Parenthood.”

Morana told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that not only was she “not quitting” the advisory group but she planned to “work harder than before” to see Trump elected,
stressing that his “locker room banter” was not as harmful as Clinton’s abortion stance.

She also called on people to forgive Trump, emphasizing that it is still the Year of Mercy and that he has apologized for his statements.

Morana emphasized that she was speaking only as a Catholic woman in leadership and was not representing the Silent No More Campaign.

Others also said they felt they had no other option but to stick with Trump.

“I think his comments are utterly disgusting, but I have no other choice than to
vote for him,” said Gail Buckley, who attended a meeting of the Catholic
Leadership Conference in Denver in early October, where Trump sent a letter to
Catholics gathered there saying: “I will be there for you. I will stand
with you. I will fight for you” on pro-life and other issues.

Buckley, who is president of the leadership conference as well as president and founder
of Catholic Scripture Study International, said she asked Clinton to also
address the group, but her campaign declined the invitation. Buckley said she
does not trust Clinton and “would never support a candidate who promotes
abortion and same-sex marriage and threatens my religious liberty.”

Joseph Cella, founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, who serves as a
liaison between a Catholic advisory group and the Trump/Pence ticket, said he
found what Trump said “repulsive and undignified and cannot be condoned or
defended,” but he also said that the Republicans were the only candidates
who would “defend the right to life” as well as religious freedom.

In the debate, which was sprinkled with assaults from both sides, Trump reached out to
those like Buckley and Cella, saying: “I am looking to appoint judges very
much in the mold of Justice Scalia,” when the candidates were asked about
their plans for nominating a Supreme Court justice to replace the conservative
Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. It is a task that the
next president will have to undertake and one that is high in the mind of many

Clinton answered: “I want a Supreme Court that will stick with Roe v. Wade and a
woman’s right to choose and I want a Supreme Court that will stick with
marriage equality.”

But Catholics, like much of the nation, remain divided as to what matters in this
election. In June, the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, released
results of a survey that revealed, as CEO Robert P. Jones put it, “white
(non-Hispanic) Catholic and Latino Catholics are in different universes”
when it comes to issues that are important to them in the presidential
election. One of the most important ones for Latino Catholics was immigration,
an area that Clinton used to attack Trump in the debate.

“It’s not only women and it’s not only this video that raises questions about his
fitness to be our president,” she said. “Because he has also targeted
immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, POWs,
Muslims, and so many others.”

Even before the debate and the airing of the video and audio, Trump seemed to be
struggling with Catholics for their vote, according to a PRRI poll released in
late August. The poll showed him down 23 points, 55-32, against Clinton.

The letter Trump sent out to Catholic Leadership Conference members gathered in
Denver in early October seemed “like a desperate Hail Mary pass,”
said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an
advocacy group in Washington.

“Trump is struggling with Catholic voters for a reason: Anti-immigrant nativism, crude
sexism and making an idol of wealth are not Gospel values,” Gehring said
to CNS in an email interview. “Pope Francis reminds us that building a culture of life isn’t about a single issue and that everything is connected. Catholics also want to
hear about creating an economy of inclusion, dignity for refugees and
addressing the way climate change disproportionately hurts the poor. These are
central life issues.” said a day before the debate that even though it didn’t endorse Trump, it defended a lot of his positions. In an Oct. 8 statement on its website, it said
that “in the recording, he brags about sexually assaulting women.
Christians should not waste their breath defending them. The mere fact that
this conversation is occurring in the context of a presidential campaign
impoverishes us all.”

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is executive director of the
Catholic social justice lobbying organization Network, said in a statement:
“We urge the candidates to step out of the gutter and focus on the
pressing needs of our time.”

There wasn’t opportunity for real conversation during the debate and it was not
centered on the “needs of the people,” Sister Campbell said, urging
the candidates to present plans for governing that all can weigh.

“Secretary Clinton has articulated a detailed strategy. Network is still waiting for Mr.
Trump’s plan,” she said.

Christopher J. Hale, executive director for Washington’s Catholics in Alliance for the
Common Good, said the debate was “an absolute embarrassment to those of us
who believe that politics can and must serve the common good.”

The people of the United States deserve better than what they got in the second
debate and during this presidential campaign season, he said, expressing hopethatthe final  debate in Nevada Oct. 19 will be better.

“While we’re stuck with the vanity politics of small things, the nation is looking for
serious dialogue about the issues that matter,” Hale said. “We heard
very little toward that end. I hope the final debate will discuss a broader
range of critical issues such as the dignity of life, the scandal of poverty,
comprehensive immigration reform, and care for God’s creation, among

– – –

Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina. Julie Asher and Carol Zimmermann contributed to this report.


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