With intertwined Vatican and U.S. flags hanging behind him, Vice President Mike Pence addressed D.C. Catholics this morning, pledging federal support for shared interests and extolling Trump administration initiatives that he said promote religious freedom and protect human life.
“Catholicism has made an indelible mark on the American spirit,” Mr. Pence said at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. “Your faith has moved mountains, and the Catholic Church and its millions of parishioners have been a force for good in our communities large and small throughout our land, throughout our history.”
Catholicism has made an indelible mark on the American spirit & the Church & its parishioners have been a force for good in our communities. pic.twitter.com/L4vTB9ysYm— Vice President Pence (@VP) June 6, 2017
Mr. Pence, who was raised Catholic but who is now an evangelical Christian, highlighted three priorities in his speech—religious liberty at home, Christian persecution around the world and abortion—and said to applause, “American Catholics have an ally in President Donald Trump.”
Almost entirely absent from Mr. Pence’s remarks were three issues Catholic leaders consistently raise as priorities in the United States: strengthening the social safety net, environmental protection and immigration. (Mr. Pence did recall parts of the U.S. church’s history, which, he noted, included “waves of Catholic immigrants, like my grandfather, [from] places like Ireland, from Italy, from Germany, indeed from across the wider world, drawn here by the promise of freedom, of opportunity, of prosperity, and...a freedom to practice their faith that is the birthright of every American.”)
Vice President Mike Pence: “American Catholics have an ally in President Donald Trump.”
The Trump administration has faced fierce criticism from many Catholic leaders over plans to limit refugee resettlement and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and for championing a budget that would slash federal programs that serve the poor.
During his roughly 25-minute address, the vice president said that Mr. Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis last month was “lengthy and meaningful,” and he said the pair agreed to work together on the three issues that Mr. Pence highlighted during his speech. (The White House and Vatican statements about the Vatican meeting differed slightly; the Holy See noted that aid to immigrants was discussed while the White House omitted that part.)
The vice president focused on areas where the administration’s policy goals align with Catholic priorities and said that the Trump administration has already taken important steps to protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.
The vice president focused on areas where the administration’s policy goals align with Catholic priorities.
For example, he noted that the president signed an executive order last month that the administration says began a process of bringing relief to religious organizations that object to portions of the Affordable Care Act and instructs the federal government not to penalize religious organizations that violate I.R.S. rules against partisan politicking.
“No American should have to violate their conscience to fully participate in American life,” Mr. Pence said on Tuesday morning. “President Trump will continue to fight to ensure that every American has the freedom to follow the dictates of their conscience and add their voices and their values to the beautiful tapestry of America’s national life.”
Some bishops were supportive of Mr. Trump’s executive order, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who were on hand to celebrate at the White House last month. Last week, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore praised a leaked draft of new regulations stemming from the executive order, calling them “years overdue.”
“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of this administration.”
Mr. Pence asked the crowd to applaud members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who sued the Obama administration over a federal mandate requiring employers to provide contraception insurance. Leaders from the religious order were also on hand at the White House signing ceremony last month.
Regarding the persecution of Christians around the world, Mr. Pence said, “Christianity faces unprecedented threats in the land where it was given birth and an exodus unrivaled since the days of Moses.”
He said the Trump administration “is fully committed to bringing relief and comfort to believers in that ancient land” and considers the terrorist group ISIS to be guilty of genocide.
“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of this administration,” he said, tying the issue to what he called “the cancer of terrorism,” which he promised the Trump administration would “drive from the face of the earth.”
“I couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life.”
On life issues, Mr. Pence stuck largely to abortion, telling the friendly crowd, “I couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life.” He cited as examples Mr. Trump’s decision to expand the so-called Mexico City Policy, which prohibits federal funding of abortion overseas as well as his own tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood.
“President Donald Trump stands with the men and women who stand for the sanctity of human life in America, and he always will,” he said.
Organizers of the event, which began in 2004 and serves as something of a Catholic supplement to the National Prayer Breakfast, had extended an invitation to Mr. Trump. The president spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
According to the Catholic Prayer Breakfast’s website, several Republican political leaders have spoken at the event in the past, including a number of appearances by former President George W. Bush. Just one Democrat appears among previous speakers, the former Congressman Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat from Michigan. The founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Joseph Cella, was an early supporter of Mr. Trump and helped organize Catholic support for the G.O.P. nominee.
In addition to Mr. Pence, other speakers at Tuesday’s event included Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the archdiocese serving the U.S. military, and Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, the founder and mother servant of Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, who has worked on interfaith peace efforts in Iraq.
This story will be updated.