Since the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, many Catholics have been reevaluating the church’s relationship with Donald Trump. Various organizations, publications, and opinion leaders, both inside and outside the church, have lamented the high levels of support that Donald Trump still receives from Catholics. But with one day left to his presidency, an equally important issue is how Catholics can move past the instincts and culture that made support for a man antithetical to so much of Catholicism’s teaching so attractive.
One place to start is for the U.S. bishops to end their campaign against equality for LGBTQ people.
Many times, as the Trump administration stripped away hard won advances for LGBTQ people’s human rights, the U.S. bishops applauded, commended, lauded, and affirmed the president’s actions. These actions were not minor. GLAAD documents that the Trump administration made 181 attacks on LGBTQ equality during the past four years. The bishops supported the attacks which sought to remove–or actually removed–non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ healthcare patients, clients of homeless shelters, students in public schools, adoptive and foster parents, recipients of HIV/AIDS and other public health programs, and more. (To review some of the bishops’ statements on such issues, see our “Politics & Human Rights” category.)
Perhaps most consequential, Trump has left a generation-long imprint on the federal judiciary, to which he has appointed about one-fourth of all judges. His successful confirmation of three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, two Catholics and one raised Catholic, has already meant the victory in Bostock last year, which made LGBTQ employment discrimination illegal, was undercut by O.L. Guadalupe, which freed up religious institutions to discriminate at will against their employees, a move strongly championed by the bishops. These new justices could mean LGBTQ advances are rolled back long after Trump has vacated the White House. The Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case currently on the Court’s docket this term could be devastating to non-discrimination protections beyond just the adoption and foster care social services it involves, an outcome the bishops’ amicus briefs and public statements seem to wholeheartedly desire.
The bishops’ dedication to stopping LGBTQ equality has for the last decade appeared under the guise of concern for religious liberty. Begun by portraying themselves as the Obama administration’s victims, the bishops were then joined by Trump’s many Catholic allies in weaponizing religious liberty, distorting it for partisan interests in ways which were often divergent from church teaching. The Trump administration also misused natural law theory in establishing the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to redefine the U.S.’ foreign policy interests away from LGBTQ and reproductive rights issues. And church leaders have repeatedly cited religious liberty as the justification for their unjust firing of LGBTQ church workers (the Trump administration filed an amicus brief in defense of the church in at least one discrimination lawsuit).
The bishops’ complicity in Trump policies goes beyond LGBTQ equality, too. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has denounced Trump’s anti-immigrant and pro-death penalty actions, they did not do so in the nearly apocalyptic terms used against President Barack Obama’s contraception mandate. Perhaps the low point was when Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a strong Trump supporter, described the president as a “great friend.” I acknowledge there are some bishops, like Lexington’s Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., who have raised a prophetic challenge to the government’s cruelty. But, on the whole, church leaders have at best been silent and at worst ceded to the worst impulses of the president. Fr. James Martin, SJ, names many examples of this pattern in an essay for America.
The bishops do not have to keep repeating these mistakes. They could choose to end their campaign against LGBTQ equality, and even collaborate with Joe Biden to work against anti-LGBTQ discrimination, which would be a very Catholic endeavor. But all indications are that not even the January 6th insurrection aimed at dismantling democracy was the inflection point for the bishops that it should have been. Reports suggest that the USCCB is poised to strike against the U.S.’ second Catholic president, as it did President Obama. The promise of a Biden administration, though, offers greater hope to Catholics who support LGBTQ equality, even if the bishops continue their ill-advised campaign.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 19, 2021