In a strongly worded newspaper column, a Kentucky bishop urged Catholics to consider the church’s full teaching on life and to resist temptations to align themselves with the “Make America Great Again” movement started by President Trump.
Bishop John Stowe wrote on Wednesday that it “astonishes” him that some students gathered in Washington, D.C., last week to protest abortion at the March for Life—including students caught on video in an exchange with a Native American tribal leader—wore so-called MAGA caps, which he said support a president whose policies are putting lives at risk.
Bishop John Stowe wrote that it “astonishes” him that some students at the March for Life wore so-called MAGA caps.
“Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents,” the Lexington, Ky., bishop wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader, “it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.”
A group of students from Covington Catholic High School, located about 80 miles north of Bishop Stowe’s diocese, were filmed wearing the red baseball caps while interacting with a group of Native American protesters who were participating in an indigenous people’s march. The tribal leader Nathan Phillips, who was filmed in the video, said he felt threatened and disrespected by the students. But some of the students said that they had been harassed by a third group of protesters, from an African-American organization called Hebrew Israelites, who shouted racist and homophobic comments at them, and that they did not intend to disrespect Mr. Phillips when he approached them.
Many Catholic voters have been supportive of President Trump, in part because of his support for judges who are opposed to abortion.
According to polling by the Public Religion Research Institute, 59 percent of Catholics overall held an unfavorable view of the president as of last September. But that unfavorability number was only 50 percent among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, with 46 percent of them giving Mr. Trump a favorable rating. (Mr. Trump sent a tweet in support of the Covington Catholic students over the weekend, and on Wednesday, the White House said the administration had “reached out” to the students, fueling speculation that they may be invited to visit with the president in the future.)
According to one poll, 59 percent of Catholics overall held an unfavorable view of the president as of last September.
But in his op-ed, Bishop Stowe questioned the logic of Catholics supporting a president who, while against abortion, clashes with church teaching on a number of other issues.
“We cannot uncritically ally ourselves with someone with whom we share the policy goal of ending abortion,” he wrote.
The bishop, a Franciscan who previously ministered on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, has spoken out on other controversial issues over the past couple of years. Last February, Bishop Stowe blessed a group of immigration activists who had been arrested following a protest at the U.S. Capitol. In 2017, he addressed New Ways Ministry, a group that promotes L.G.B.T. inclusion in the church. In July 2018, the bishop criticized “cruelty” toward immigrants at the Center for Migration Studies’ Conference on Promoting Just and Inclusive Communities; a shortened version of that speech was published in America.
The bishop, a Franciscan who previously ministered on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, has spoken out on other controversial issues over the past couple of years.
In his most recent commentary, Bishop Stowe wrote that the pro-life movement began with “peace activists who saw their opposition to abortion as a natural extension of opposition to all forms of violence.” He took issue with what he sees as the cleaving of abortion from the church’s broader social justice ministry.
“While the church’s opposition to abortion has been steadfast, it has become a stand-alone issue for many and has become disconnected to other issues of human dignity,” he wrote.
The bishop, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2015, highlighted the recent pastoral letter on racism adopted by U.S. bishops in November, noting that it describes racism as a “life” issue and saying that insight should enter school curriculums.
“Students must grapple with this history and ask themselves how they are going to live differently,” he wrote.
There has been tension in the pro-life community in recent years about the the movement’s goals. Activists have debated whether the primary goal should be to outlaw all abortion, to restrict abortion access or to push for policy changes that would dissuade people from seeking abortion. In his Herald-Leader column, Bishop Stowe touches on that last strategy, arguing that the pro-life movement must resist aligning itself with movements that include “a politics of hate.”
“The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal [and] aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children,” Bishop Stowe wrote. “The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.”