For weeks before the shocking election that vaulted Donald Trump to the highest job in the land over Hillary Clinton, pollsters had warned that American Catholics, who make up 25 percent of the electorate, were strictly divided.
Some, they said, favored Trump for his anti-abortion comments. Others said Catholics would side with Clinton out of respect for Pope Francis who famously dissed Trump for his comments about building walls. “Building walls instead of bridges is not Christian,” he said on the flight back to Rome from Mexico earlier this year. “This is not in the Gospel.”
One Catholic poll even predicted that 46 percent of the voters would side with Clinton and just 40 percent with Trump.
The pollsters were clearly wrong.
Instead, exit data suggests that more than 52 percent of Catholics voted for Trump, with just 45 percent backing Clinton, which is remarkable since Catholics overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in the last two elections.
Catholics, unlike the pollsters, knew the sands were shifting. For weeks, Catholic pulse takers like Crux had started making their own predictions that Trump was prevailing, pushed in part by the U.S. Bishops Conference which has been in a long battle with the Obama government about his affordable health care act that pays for birth control, one of the biggest taboos in Catholicism.
Writing in National Catholic Register ahead of the contest, Matthew Archbold, fanned the growing fire when he identified five ways a Trump win helps the conservative cause. Strict Catholics, he said, might consider Trump as a guarantor for an abortion-foe in the Supreme Court. He argued that Trump might also end the transgender school mandate, work for increased Christian religious liberty, and fulfill his staple promise to throw out the Obamacare program that currently allows for paid contraception. These, he said, were issues that Catholics on the fence might consider in the ballot box.
Archbold also noted a Trump win could lead to the shuttering of Planned Parenthood. “With a Republican House and Senate and a Republican in the presidency, pro-lifers have every reason to expect that Planned Parenthood will be defunded in short order,” he says. “Yesterday, while voting was just getting underway, Planned Parenthood retweeted a tweet saying, ‘Terrified. Hopeful. But truly terrified.’ There was good reason for Planned Parenthood to be terrified...Now, the Republican party will be under heavy pressure to defund the abortion giant on the federal level.”
Trump aside, Clinton was not innately seen as a Catholic-friendly choice. Never mind the Church’s continuing stance on blocking women from serving in high-ranking positions. The more likely reason for the church men’s disapproval was her pro-choice stance and LGBT-friendly views on same-sex marriage. Surely her decision to anoint Catholic Tim Kaine as her running mate was an attempt to nod to the importance of American Catholics, which number more than 72 million. But raising Kaine to her running mate on the ticket didn’t help, not least because of his apparent disregard to Catholic teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage and the death penalty in order to side with Secretary Clinton.
Catholics were also clearly offended after a slew of emails to her campaign chair John Podesta were leaked to the press. In one, Democratic strategist John Halpin criticized Rupert Murdoch and an editor at the Wall Street Journal for raising their kids Catholic, calling it “an amazing bastardization of the faith.”
Halpin didn’t stop there. In the email, which was copied to Podesta, he wrote, “They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”
In another leaked email, Sandy Newman, with Voices for Progress, wrote Podesta to suggest the Catholic core needs a shake-up. “There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church,” he wrote. “I have not thought at all about how one would ‘plant the seeds of the revolution,’ or who would plant them.”
Many of the more conservative Catholics went to extremes to make their point about Clinton’s stance on abortion. Frank Pavone, a priest in Amarillo Texas and member of the group ‘Priests for Life’ used an aborted fetus that had been entrusted to him to prove his point. He posted the whole morbid event on Facebook. “Here before me lies a baby killed by abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy,” he says on the video as he shows the dead fetus on a white cloth on the altar. “We are going to let this baby’s body bear witness to our nation as we begin the process to elect our next president.”
Michael Matt, editor of ultra-conservative Catholic rag The Remnant, put it like this: “These wretched human beings spend 24/7 ramming their pro-sodomy, pro-abortion, pro-perversion agenda down the throats of the American people,” he wrote when Trump’s now-famous tour bus locker room banter tape was released.
“And now here they are pretending to faint away in horror over Donald Trump’s potty-mouthed locker-room banter eleven years ago. These same charlatans screaming for Donald Trump’s head today, spent the last year demanding that men be given the right to use girls’ showers and restrooms all over America. This moral indignation coming from the morally bankrupt is just a wee bit over the top. And it’s all about one thing, of course: Getting Grandma Clinton back in the White House.”
Now, it will be a waiting game to see if the Trump gamble pays off for Catholics or if they wished they would have stayed with the ‘devil they know’ rather than the one they don’t.