US Church vs politics – The President and the Bishops

By Michael McGough in the Tablet UK, 09 February 2017

James Kottor(Note: The UK’s national Catholic weely Tablet, is bright, brief and begone, in its comments on the state of thinking among US hierarchy. (“Intelligenti paucca”) Few words are enough to get the message for the intelligent.

President of US conference of bishops on Migration is forthright: “We strongly disagree with the executive order”; for Chicago’s cardinal Cupich it is equally clear: “a dark moment in US history”, but for New York Cardinal,Dolan it is wishy-washys, neither here nor there: It remains to “be thought out better.”

It means more than one third of US bishops led by Cardinal Burke (who praised and supported Trump) and New York Cardinal Dolan, don’t want to appear to be against Trump’s policies, even after Francis has made his stand crystal clear. May better light dawn for the hard liners so that no unbridgeable chasam may yawn between the hardliners and the Pope. james kottoor, editor)

With the first meeting between Donald Trump and Pope Francis eagerly anticipated, the president’s unpredictable style and break with traditional politics have already created awkward dilemmas for the leaders of the US Church

When Donald Trump was sworn in on 20 January, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was among the religious leaders invoking God’s blessing on the new administration. His contribution to the ceremony, a reading from the Book of Wisdom, was free of adulation for the new president. But his mere presence at the inauguration of a leader who had campaigned on a platform that included maligning Mexican immigrants, Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees made some Catholics nervous.
Those fears were quickly realised. Within a week, Trump made good on his campaign rhetoric, issuing an executive order suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days, indefinitely barring refugees from Syria, and capping the number of refugees for this fiscal year at 50,000. Most dramatically, his order suspended admission to the US of anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. Initially, that ban was interpreted to bar even legal permanent residents from returning to the country and it caused chaos as students and immigrants were waylaid at airports. 

Prominent among the critics of Trump’s actions were members of the Catholic hierarchy. On 27 January, the day the order was issued, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, of Austin, Texas, chairman of the committee on migration of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued a statement saying: “We strongly disagree with the executive order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now, more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.” Cardinal Blaise Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, referred to the dislocation as “a dark moment in US history”. Dolan was more muted, saying: “This has got to be thought out better.”

It would be tempting to see in the bishops’ backlash the beginning of the end of what some liberal Catholics have seen as an unholy alliance between the hierarchy and the Republican party. Surely, the thinking goes, it cannot survive the rupture that the Trump administration represents with traditional politics, including Republican politics.

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