According to Christopher White, reporting for The Tablet, the call included Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York), Cardinal Sean O'Malley (Boston), Archbishop Jose Gomez (Los Angeles), Bishop Michael Barber (Oakland, and chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops committee of Catholic Education) and superintendents of Catholic schools in several major cities. On the administration side, the call reportedly included Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson.
|Well, those were some good times|
He touted his anti-abortion credentials, a position that is a new one for him, with his evolution on the issue corresponding with his decision to run for office. Makes sense-- raise your hand if you know someone, or ten someones, who supports Trump because anti-abortion. Trump also mentioned his pushback on the Johnson Amendment-- the one that says tax-exempt groups can't make political endorsements.
After this fifteen minute campaign stump speech, the floor was open to a combination of asking questions and kissing Dear Leader's ring.
Cardinal Dolan led off. Trump called him a "great gentleman" and "a great friend of mine" and Dolan said the feeling is mutual. Dolan has been pretty effusive about Trump, welcoming him to last Sunday's virtual mass and going on Fox to say he was "in admiration of his leadership." This is not a new thing. Dolan delivered the invocation before Trump's swearing in, and just a few months ago welcomed Attorney General Barr to Dolan's SiriusXM show to burble about what it's like to work for Trump.
Dolan's main thrust for the call was Catholic schooling. He called DeVos, Carson, and Kellyanne Conway "champions" and "cherished allies in our passion for our beloved schools." He thanked Trump for making sure that Catholic schools were included in the stimulus package, and identifying the main issues as "parental rights, educational justice, and civil rights of our kids." But he painted a grim picture for the long term, saying that "tuition assistance" for parents to keep sending their kids to parochial schools was needed.
“Never has the outlook financially looked more bleak, but perhaps never has the outlook looked more promising given the energetic commitment that your administration has to our schools,” Cardinal Dolan told the president. “We need you more than ever.”
Trump moved things right back to the point of the conversation-- vote for him in November. A defeat for him would mean "a very different Catholic Church," which means I don't know what, other than the usual play to the notion that somehow, in this country, Christians would be oppressed if Dear Leader were not there to lead them and I swear I will never fully grasp how the least Christian man to enter the White House somehow maintains Christian support. It's particularly striking because US evangelicals, the other wing of his religious support, historically are not big fans of the Catholic Church, at all.
The other big Catholic wigs were lined up for more of the same. Boston's Cardinal O'Malley said that Catholic schools have been unsurpassed in our country for moving people into the middle class. He also called for tuition support for parents."
To him, Trump said, "We'll be helping you out more than you even know."
Superintendents from LA and Denver called for school choice, with Escala of LA making the bold claim that Catholic schools in California "have saved the government over two billion dollars." Trump liked that savings figure and asked if they could come up with a national figure that he could use to argue with Congress. I'm guessing coming up with a national figure would be easy, unless you wanted it to be fact-based.
Bishop Barber called Betsy DeVos a great ally to Catholics, and said yay for Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, "whom he characterized as supporters of school choice."
At one point, Trump made a fairly straightforward pitch. “What a similarity we have and how the other side is the exact opposite of what you’re wanting so I guess it’s an important thing to remember.”
Not all Catholics have been loving this. The more liberal National Catholic Reporter said "the capitulation is complete," accused the Bishops of providing "campaign footage" and said this:
Without a whimper from any of his fellow bishops, the cardinal archbishop of New York has inextricably linked the Catholic Church in the United States to the Republican Party and, particularly, President Donald Trump.
US Catholic leadership appears to be all in for Trump, in particular looking to him to provide that all important parent tuition assistance. I suppose that could take the form of an actual taxpayer funded subsidy straight to Catholic school parents, but vouchers or education savings accounts would spread the wealth and better obscure the fact that taxpayers would be subsidizing private schools that are free to discriminate on whatever basis they feel compelled to use. The Catholic Church needs some financial backing for their schools, and they've done very, very well where vouchers are legal.
There's a lot of pretty language, but quid pro quo-- money for votes-- seems to cover it. Nobody here is talking about the value of or cost to public education, nor even about the notion that maybe the government and taxpayers (and not just Trump) might look for some give from the Catholic schools like, say, a little less discrimination. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church would do well to remember that when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. And the politics of Trump is solidly anti-public education.