Of all the downright stupid “shoot-himself-in-the-foot” statements Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made this campaign season which alienate different voter groups - and there have been many - one of the more incomprehensible was the charge he made at the Al Smith charity fund-raising dinner in New York City.
The tradition is that the dinner is a chance for the candidates to put partisanship aside, engage in some light-hearted humor and recognize that their opponent is not the devil incarnate.
Trump, however, despite initially looking and sounding almost presidential, blew it all by accusing Mrs. Clinton of being insincere even by being there because she allegedly hates Catholics.
Really, Donald? The Clintons are many different things to many different people, but no one has ever accused them of being stupid.
Catholics constitute the largest religious group in America with an estimated 82 million people, or about 25% of the population which translates into one fourth of all eligible voters. A key constituency supporting Mrs. Clinton is the Hispanic vote which is heavily Catholic and a rapidly increasing demographic group.
The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is Pope Francis I, one of the world’s and this nation’s most admired individuals.
Nonetheless, in a futile and ham-handed effort Trump was attempting to develop a wedge between socially conservative, blue collar, working class Catholics who are on their way to voting for Mrs. Clinton despite this constituency having opted largely for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
It was classless and clueless, especially when put in the larger context of his effort to keep Evangelicals, many of whom are deserting him in droves, in his coalition of base supporters. If anyone on the dais at the Al Smith Dinner could be charged with hating Catholics it is the Donald himself.
In doing so Trump is trying to tap into a dying almost dormant tradition of anti-Catholicism in America. The Al Smith honored in name at the dinner was the first Catholic to carry a major party’s nomination for the presidency. John Kennedy was the first Catholic elected president.
The ideal in America is complete separation between Church and State. The reality is that so many issues today have a moral and religious context to them, that inevitable intermingling occurs. Life issues in particular are fertile grounds for such. The Catholic Church is and always will be inalterably opposed to abortion on demand and physician assisted suicide.
Gray areas become obvious when Catholic hospitals are the recipients of federal funds, but will refuse to allow abortions to be performed on site and will not give privileges to doctors who perform abortions.
While appreciating the importance of life issues (I chaired the campaign in Washingtton state in 2008 against Initiative 1000 which sanctioned physician assisted suicide) I don’t appreciate being lectured from the pulpit by a conservative priest who feels compelled to spell out in a not too subtle manner why those in the pews should oppose Mrs. Clinton.
Such occurred a couple of Sundays ago when I was attending Mass at St. Rita’s in Kellogg. The former (for 11 years) pastoral priest, Father Tom Loucks, was substituting. Imagine my surprise when he started in on how much anti-Catholicism still exists. He even claimed Idaho’s Constitution still contains anti-Catholic language (He must be reading a different copy than I have), but made no mention of the extensive anti-Mormon language that was stripped out in the early 70’s.
He even sang the praises of Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput who makes a point of saying he will deny Holy Communion and the Host to any Catholic politician who may privately abhor abortion but recognizes the woman’s right to choose.
The vast majority of bishops in the United States take the position that they cannot judge the heart of a person seeking communion and their role is to administer, not deny.
Father Loucks should know that the days of “pray, pay and obey” Catholicism are long gone. Both he and Donald Trump should show more respect for the separation of Church and State, that the mixing of the two can become a toxic mixture that poisons whomever imbibes.