Mike Pence’s relationship with the Catholic Church is...complicated

Late last year, Catholic Charities agencies in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis did something it has done thousands of times before in its 40-year history: It resettled a refugee family. Catholic Charities staff helped find housing, provided medical care, enrolled the family members in English classes and introduced them to the basics of living in a new culture. 

Only this time, the resettlement took place under the glare of a national spotlight, the result of a public battle between the man just named to be Donald Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, and the archbishop of Indianapolis, Joseph Tobin.

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Following terrorist attacks in Paris last November that left 130 people dead, about two dozen U.S. governors said that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states. Catholic bishops from New Hampshire to New Mexico urged political leaders to resist giving into anti-refugee “hysteria,” as the bishop of Providence, R.I., put it, and to continue offering assistance to those who needed it.

Pence was one of those governors. He said on Nov. 16 that he felt the years-long federal screening process all refugees face when entering the United States was not working. He therefore directed state agencies to withhold aid to resettled Syrians.

“Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world, but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers," he said at the time.

Because the refugee program is federal, state governors were not able to halt resettlement altogether. Instead, they could make it more difficult for agencies by denying state services, which is what Pence did.

But by the time Pence made his announcement, Catholic Charities of Indianapolis already had plans in place to resettle a Syrian family. The family, two parents and two children, had been living in Jordan for three years, undergoing security screening, and the agency wanted to move ahead with the resettlement.

So in a rare intervention, Tobin, the archbishop, trekked to the State House for a private meeting with Pence on Dec. 2. It was there that Pence pleaded with the archbishop not to resettle the family, again citing security concerns. Archbishop Tobin promised the governor that he would think about his request, away from the media spotlight, and that he would personally call Pence with his decision. 

A spokesman for the archdiocese noted at the time that it was “highly unusual” for the archbishop to be involved in what was normally a routine Catholic Charities matter.

Six days after the meeting, Archbishop Tobin disclosed to the press that he had defied Pence’s request; the family had arrived in Indianapolis the night before and was being cared for by Catholic Charities.

Archbishop Tobin said in a statement that he had “listened to the governor’s concerns regarding security” and “prayerfully considered his request” not to resettle the family in Indiana, but had decided to move forward anyway. 

Pence’s office responded, saying in a statement that while the governor holds Catholic Charities “in the highest esteem,” he nonetheless “respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time.” 

And the ban on state funding to the families stood, the statement revealed, leaving Catholic Charities to foot the bills alone. Immigration and refugee advocates weren’t pleased. [Update, July 22: Fearing lawsuits, Pence relented, telling reporters that state aid could be used to support anyone legally in the state of Indiana.]

(Interestingly, Pence tweeted the day the news broke that the family had been resettled in Indianapolis that he was against a religious test for refugees, calling the proposal “offensive and unconstitutional,” a position that puts him at odds with his running mate.)

The resettlement saga helps to illuminate the complicated relationship Pence has with the Catholic Church. 

According to an Indy Star profile of him, Pence was born and raised a Catholic, an upbringing where attending Mass and serving as altar boy was an important part of his life. Sometime during college, he began attending a non-denominational church, where he met his future wife. He now describes himself as, “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican,” in that order, and he’s also called himself, “a born-again, evangelical Catholic,” a phrase met with consternation by some on social media.

But Pence, long described as a culture warrior during his decade in Congress, nonetheless supports many issues important to some Catholics. According to reports, Trump picked Pence because he may allay concerns some conservatives have that the Manhattan real-estate mogul is not really one of them.

As a Congressman in 2003, Pence pushed for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, a proposal some Catholic bishops still support, even a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. 

Later, in 2011, he advocated shutting down the federal government in order to defund Planned Parenthood, a rallying cry still common among some conservative lawmakers.

After he was sworn in as governor in 2013, following a campaign that largely eschewed social issues in favor of economic concerns, he pushed for the passage of a controversial bill that critics said would allow businesses to refuse service to L.G.B.T. people for religious reasons. 

He eventually backtracked on the issue, after several big businesses threatened to boycott the state, to the consternation of some of his supporters.

Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, praised Pence and told America the two have worked together personally on abortion issues since Pence was first elected to Congress in 2000.

“Personally I know him to be a man who is not afraid to defend our values and to pay the price necessary to do it,” Pavone said of Pence. “We always knew we were going to have his strong support. He encouraged us, and we encouraged him.”

He said he understood that some conservatives were disappointed in Pence for backtracking on the religious liberty bill in light of pressure from the business community, but that he didn’t share those feelings.

“It’s always a disappointing thing when you can’t go full steam,” he said. “But I give him more credit for having taken the measure in the first place.”

Other Catholics are more skeptical of Pence, in part because of their opposition to Trump’s policy proposals.

The Franciscan Action Network was one of several Catholic organizations that signed a letter to lawmakers and governors last year urging them to welcome Syrian refugees. That group’s leader, Patrick Carolan, told America that he takes issue with Pence for his refusal to support refugees, but even more so because of the governor’s history of support for the coal industry.

“People who are climate [change] deniers should never claim to be pro-life,” Carolan said. “People can’t claim to be pro-life if they’re in favor of destroying God’s creation.”

Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See under President Barack Obama and a professor of theology of Loyola University Chicago, told America that he, too, believes Trump’s choice could assuage some Catholic voters concerned that Trump isn’t sincere in his opposition to abortion. But he said that Pence’s views on L.G.B.T. issues may turn off other Catholics when they head to the polls.

“Trump and Pence represent a ticket that is frozen in time, out of touch with the signs of the times,” he said. “At a time when Pope Francis has challenged a ‘globalization of indifference,’ Trump has selected a candidate who has demonstrated a lack of sensitivity on a number of issues that have affected various communities in our nation.”

And though Catholics make up a sizable chunk of the electorate, it’s likely Trump was far more concerned with how his choice would be perceived by evangelical voters. After all, a recent poll found that most Catholics are gravitating toward Clinton, while Trump is dominating among with white evangelicals. 

Getting those voters to the polls may be the best chance he has of winning the White House, which explains why evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr., were among the first to know Trump’s decision to pick Mike Pence.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
1 year 4 months ago
The irony is that his demographic is consistently reported as "Catholic's" is the polls. America Magazine should raise their voice in order to force these guys to make their analysis of Catholic opinion more accurate and scientific...
Robert Koch
1 year 4 months ago
I've pretty much given up on the Jesuits a long time ago. Gov. Pence could actually be more Catholic in his ideals then the Jesuit society.
william lupinacci
1 year 4 months ago
You should have at least mentioned that the last church that he has admitted to attending regularly is Grace Evangelical megachurch, not any Catholic Church.
Vincent Gaglione
1 year 4 months ago
The only Catholics that Pence will appeal to are essentially Catholics who think, act, and live like the vast majority of evangelicals who now support Trump. The prosperity Gospel is their core belief and the economic crisis proved it wrong. Their "savior" is now the man who promises to make America great again, which really translates to jobs and economic security in segregated neighborhoods and localities that don't have to support the poor. That's also the "law and order" part of the story. Pence's Congressional record is rife with efforts to undermine the social safety net and impose conservative economic policies on the nation. Kudos to the Archbishop of Indianapolis. A forthright assertion of Catholic social beliefs in the face of the current political trends is noteworthy from the hierarchy in America.
Aaron Lineman
1 year 4 months ago
"As a Congressman in 2003, Pence pushed for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, a proposal some Catholic bishops still support, even a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage." Umm....I did not know there are Catholic bishops who do not support the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one women. Are there bishops who think otherwise?
Kevin Sullivan
1 year 4 months ago
The author should check further on the statement "the ban on state funding stood." The Indianapolis Star reported the contrary i.e. state funding would be provided. http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2015/12/08/catholic-archdiocese-settles-syrian-refugee-family-indianapolis/76971036/
Anne Danielson
1 year 4 months ago
"As a Congressman in 2003, Pence pushed for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, a proposal some Catholic bishops still support, even a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage." Are you suggesting that some Catholic Bishops, deny God's intention for marriage and the family, and the fact that the marital act is life-affirming and life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife? If this is true, why would a Catholic Pope not desire to get to the crux of the matter, and ask every single Bishop whether or not they believe that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, and thus if they respect the Sanctity of human life from the moment we are created and brought into being at conception, and the Sanctity of marriage and the family as God intended?
Deanna Selzer
1 year 4 months ago
It would be my understanding that Catholic Bishops would uphold the teachings of the church. However, the validity of same sex marriages in the civil court cannot be denied. That most likely is where the conflict lies.
Crystal Watson
1 year 4 months ago
He's problematical in other ways too ... https://twitter.com/UltraViolet/status/754335387997179904
Ysais Martinez
1 year 4 months ago
"As a Congressman in 2003, Pence pushed for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, a proposal some Catholic bishops still support, even a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage." This is quite a problematic paragraph for two reasons. a) It sells the impression that support for marriage between a man and a women is barely supported by bishops. b) It suggests that the bishops MUST follow the secular authorities in whatever they decide. If they legalized gay marriage, then the Church must adapt. What else will these lovely leaders of ours legalize that America Magazine will suggest the Church follows suit? It seems to me that everything related to Trump-Pence is heavily scrutinized while we are not doing any scrutiny of Mrs. Clinton who in my opinion is more dangerous than Trump even if you multiply Trump by infinity.
Ronald Ruais
1 year 4 months ago
This type subtle advocacy for LGBT and "open borders" is what turns low information voters to Clinton, baby killing and the sale of body parts. Is this a Catholic magazine?
James O'Connell
1 year 3 months ago
Ah yes, because "Low Information Voters" aren't aware that the 'baby killing & sale of body parts' video was a discredited deceptively-edited piece, where the producer was, it appears, convicted of libel. So, you're saying people who believe Planned Parenthood sold body parts will now vote for Clinton? That may be, but your reasoning makes no sense.
KATHERIN MARSH
1 year 4 months ago
Both Trump and Clinton are disgusting. Neither cares about the poor, the oppressed, the underserved, the marginalized. Neither is a standard bearer of truth or moral integrity. And no amount of over analysis or intellectual using will change that. Both are evil doers and equally repulsive choices. One is Hitler, the other Stalin. Come Election Day I'm flipping a coin. Heads H Hillary. Tails T. Trump.
Robert O'Connell
1 year 4 months ago
While I too have no enthusiasm for either Hillary Trump or Donald Trump, neither is even arguably like Hitler or Stalin. I assume you are merely trying to make a more subtle point and do not mean to be taken literally. I only mention this because I think disagreeing with people as charitably as possible is both more effective and more helpful.
Richard Miller
1 year 4 months ago
I respectfully encourage everyone to make a study, or reexamination, concerning Christian morality, our Lord's Sermon on the Mount found in St. Matthew's gospel starting in chapter 5 and ending in chapter 7. It is considered by many to be the quintessential teaching of Jesus Christ while on earth. It speaks of radical humility and how some of the most avoided and downtrodden are the inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. It talks about the 'Golden Rule' and gives us the 'Our Father,' among other powerhouse teachings. I turn now to the beginning of chapter 7 in Matthew, which says, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement that you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, let me take the speck out of your eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. ". Wow, talk about radical humility! Apparently, we begin our work of spreading the kingdom of God on our knees, humbling ourselves before God, not sitting in ivory towers pronouncing judgment from afar. And that's exactly what the Pharisees and religious elite did regarding 'sinners' in their culture. Yet, we know that Jesus hung out with the marginalized and judged of society, getting to know them, and in so doing, he witnessing some of the greatest acts of faith, love, and devotion that the religious elite were too proud to give. It's too easy to judge whole groups of people like gays and lesbians, or women who've had an abortion, or Syrian immigrants coming to the United States. Jesus, didn't do that. He reserved his judgement on the basis of personal encounters with people, not ideas strewn all over the media, far removed from the living, breathing, human beings these groups represent. How we need to ask ourselves all day, every day, is this what Jesus would have done?
Becky McGrath
1 year 3 months ago
Thank you for this post. It succinctly summarizes, to me, what religion should be. Understanding each other, accepting each other, and teaching each other. The beginning of Matthew Chapter 7 that you quoted above should be written on billboards across America.
Lawrence Lyons
1 year 4 months ago
Pence is no different than any other politician, talking out both sides of his mouth at the same time; which is fitting for a man with two faces.
Lawrence Lyons
1 year 4 months ago
Pence is no different than any other politician, talking out both sides of his mouth at the same time; which is fitting for a man with two faces.
JOSEPH D'ANNA
1 year 4 months ago
It has been reported that Pence was a darling of the tobacco industry, and he is a climate change denier - like Trump and most Republican politicians at the national level. These are irresponsible, imprudent positions for any citizen - and disqualifying for national leadership.
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 4 months ago
I feel for Mike Pence. I think he is in for a rough ride and a rude awakening. That may be a good thing, actually.
E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 4 months ago
In the US Catholic Charities is in fact an arm of the Federal government receiving approximately 60% of its annual income from the government. He who pay the piper calls the tune "In 2010, Catholic Charities had revenues of $4.7 billion, $2.9 billion of which came from the US government. Only about $140 million came from donations from diocesan churches, the remainder coming from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees, and community donations. Catholic Charities is listed as an Accredited Charity by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance." Socialism is already a major factor in the use of religious organizations to deliver the services posing as charity. "The truth of the matter is that the Obama administration has actually increased funding for Catholic nonprofit organizations and programs. In fact, more than $1.5 billion went to Catholic organizations over the past two years. Funding increases for Catholic organizations in recent years include the following: An increase from $12.45 million (2008) to $57.89 million (2011) in USDA food assistance to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) An increase from just over $440 million (2008) to more than $554 million (2010) to Catholic Charities USA Increases in Dept. of Labor grants to Catholic organizations such as Catholic Charities of Kansas for ex-offender reintegration and other programs from $300,000 (2009) to more than $5 million (2011) An increase of HHS funding for Catholic Medical Mission Board global health activities from $500,000 (2008) to $7 million (2011). These are just a few examples of the many types of support received by Catholic organizations. http://www.networklobby.org/news-media/federal-funding-catholic-organizations
Lena Dalvi
1 year 3 months ago
Great, now the Catholic Church and its leaders are showing the world it is okay to defy the law. Not a good example to show. For the first time I'm in conflict with my faith.
William Watts
1 year 3 months ago
Crystal Watson, what is your point? Are you merely criticizing Gov. Pence because he is opposed to Ultra Violet's leftist agenda? Faithful Catholics would regard that as a reason to support him!

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