Catholic pundits don’t understand today’s Catholics

By Laura Hollis

Catholics are getting a lot of attention among political writers these days. And as with other demographics that once consistently voted Democrat (blacks, Hispanics, young people), candidates from all parties are actively vying for Catholics’ attention – meaning their votes – this year, while analysts and pundits express bafflement that the conventional political alignments seem no longer to apply.

As amusing as this phenomenon is to observe, it’s inscrutable that so many Catholic writers display such complete lack of understanding – not to mention outright dismay – at some Catholics’ support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Coverage of the 2024 elections in the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter is a perfect example.

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This week, Fr. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and regular writer for NCR, penned a piece titled “Catholics could decide the 2024 election.” (Writers have been talking about the determinative impact of the “Catholic vote” at least since John F. Kennedy ran for president.) Reese repeats the trope that Catholics were once reliable Democrat voters but are now not so much. Then he launches into baseless and uninformed – but entirely predictable – accusations for his explanation: Catholics who won’t vote for Democrats any longer are racists, bigots and greedy to boot.

“Richard Nixon was the first to recognize that Republicans had a chance of wooing Catholics to their party,” Reese writes. “By 1968, white Catholics had joined the middle class and moved to the suburbs. They were paying more taxes, and some objected to affirmative action and the integration of schools through busing.”

Catch the smear there? Reviled Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon lured in “white” Catholics who voted Republican because they opposed school integration. That’s a neat trick, given that the political opposition to school integration in the United States historically came not from Catholics or Republicans but southern Democrats who – outside of Louisiana – were overwhelmingly Protestant, including the infamous Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus. Of the 101 members of Congress who signed the 1956 “Southern Manifesto” seeking the reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (which declared segregated schools to be unconstitutional), 97 were Democrats.

Reese continues: “Today, Donald Trump appeals to the same nativist prejudices against immigrants that were directed at Catholics in the first half of the 20th century. That many white Catholics respond to this appeal shows how ignorant they are of what their grandparents and great-grandparents experienced.”

What this paragraph reveals is Reese’s ignorance. Americans – including Catholic Americans – are opposed to illegal immigration, not immigration per se. And it is not because of “nativist prejudices” but because of crime, overwhelmed social services (including schools and hospitals), depressed wages for American workers (especially the working poor), and insufficient resources for U.S. veterans, the homeless, the elderly and those suffering from mental illness. Not to mention the very real possibility of noncitizens voting illegally, particularly in the 14 states that require no photo identification to vote, those that permit “same day” voter registration, and those that issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and have “motor voter” registration.

These problems have been dramatically exacerbated by the de facto “open borders” policies of the Biden administration. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, nearly 17 million immigrants were living in the U.S. illegally as of 2023. Hundreds of thousands more have entered the country every month in 2024. Somewhere between 6 and 10 million immigrants have illegally entered our country just in the three and a half years since President Joe Biden took up residence in the White House. Americans are furious. A recent CBS News poll showed that 62% of registered voters now support deporting all illegal immigrants. Yes, Hispanic Americans too oppose Biden’s immigration debacle.

Another NCR writer, Steven Millies, wrote an article last week that “The Catholic brand is under new ownership.” Millies wasn’t writing about the 2024 presidential election per se; his concerns are broader: that entities and individuals other than the Catholic Church’s leadership (bishops and pastors) have “control of the narrative” of what it means to be Catholic. Millies seems particularly disturbed that American Catholics’ donations to parishes and traditional Catholic charitable organizations (like Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services) are way down, while donations to independent – and unquestionably politically conservative – organizations (like the Eternal Word Television Network, CatholicVote and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty) are skyrocketing.

Millies acknowledges the horrific sex abuse scandals that repulsed so many faithful Catholics as one possible reason for so many Catholics’ disgruntlement but barely even alludes to any others.

NCR writer Heidi Schlumpf is slightly more nuanced than Millies or Reese, but she, too, is gobsmacked that so many Catholics support Trump, despite what she describes as “his personal immorality, his moves toward authoritarianism and lack of support for democratic norms.” Schlumpf seems unaware of the Biden administration’s use of “lawfare” to prosecute, convict and try to imprison the current president’s political opponent (a matter about which even notable Democrat legal experts have expressed grave concerns), the incarceration of U.S. citizens without due process, the use of the FBI and CIA to illegally spy on Trump, and the collaboration with social media corporations to prevent truthful information from reaching the American public.

What neither Reese, Millies nor Schlumpf appear to recognize is that millions of American Catholics object to the distinctly leftward lurch of the Church, and that they are no longer cowed into submission (or donations) by generic calls for “social justice” that seem to mask approval of open borders, despotic and economically devastating “climate change” power grabs, and nudge-nudge-wink-wink tolerance of Catholic politicians like Biden and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who express unfettered enthusiasm for abortion and the transgender movement, notwithstanding its profoundly concerning impact on vulnerable children, families and females in sports, schools, recreational facilities and even prisons.

Deep divisions on political and cultural issues have fragmented the mainline Protestant denominations. Whether Catholics will face something similar remains to be seen.

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