Cleveland, Ohio, Jul 21, 2016 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- As the 2016 Republican National Convention draws to a close, some Catholics are concerned about a perceived lack of priority given to pro-life, marriage, and religious freedom issues in the GOP.
“For a party that portrays itself as the party of religious values, the approach they are outlining this week has little connection to the most important moral issues facing this country," said Robert Christian, editor of Millennial magazine and a graduate fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.
He identified these critical moral issues as: "addressing poverty, defending life, finding policies to strengthen the family, welcoming those fleeing violence, overcoming racial divisions, protecting God’s creation, and supporting human rights and human dignity.”
The 2016 Republican National Convention began on Monday and runs through Thursday, culminating in the address by the party’s nominee for president, Donald Trump, on Thursday evening. Monday and Tuesday saw the official nomination of Trump by party delegates from the 50 states, despite a last-minute effort by Trump’s opponents within the party to change the rules to deny him the nomination.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the party’s nominee for vice president, addressed the convention on Wednesday evening following a controversial speech by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Trump’s biggest primary opponent, who implored the crowd to “vote your conscience” and did not endorse Trump for president. However, Cruz’s brief mention of the importance of religious freedom — “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist,” he said — gave more treatment to the issue than other major convention speeches by figures like Pence, Dr. Ben Carson, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“Whether you are gay, or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience,” Cruz continued.
Other social issues including pro-life and pro-family policies were upheld in the party’s platform adopted on Monday, but were largely absent from the major convention speeches. Some prominent Catholics have leveled strong criticisms of Trump’s candidacy, pointing to his past remarks about women which they say are misogynistic, and also questioning his pro-life credentials.
A statement signed by over 30 prominent Catholics in March stated that “there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to the right to life, to religious freedom and the rights of conscience, to rebuilding the marriage culture, or to subsidiarity and the principle of limited constitutional government.”
Trump also said he was “pro-choice in every respect” in a 1999 NBC Meet the Press interview. He now maintains that he is pro-life. “Pro-lifers have long had reservations about Donald Trump,” Joshua Mercer, co-founder of CatholicVote.org, acknowledged to CNA on Thursday.
Yet, he added, the GOP platform adopted on Monday was “probably the most pro-life that we’ve ever seen.” Mercer added that Trump’s selection of Governor Pence, who has “long been a stalwart supporter of the unborn,” as his vice president was assuredly a positive sign for pro-lifers. He pointed to Pence’s acceptance speech where the governor insisted that “for the sake of the sanctity of life...we must ensure that the next president appointing justices to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump.”
Other pro-lifers acknowledged concerns about Trump’s history on pro-life issues and controversial remarks he has made about women. However, they added, his promise to nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court combined with his selection of Pence as a running mate sets Trump apart from the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, as the choice for pro-lifers.
Ultimately, “to me it’s about the Supreme Court,” Kansas Governor Sam Brownback told CNA on Wednesday. “My confidence [in Trump] has been growing,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA. “And it started at a very small place.” “You couldn’t find a man of better integrity, authenticity,” she said of Mike Pence, adding that Trump has picked some solid pro-life staff members like policy director Josh Mashburn and pollster Kellyanne Conway.
Christian also praised the vice-presidential candidate, saying that many Republicans’ criticisms of Pence have been “a bit unfair.” Despite Trump’s choice of Pence as a running mate, however, Christian is not sold on Trump’s commitment to the pro-life cause.
“As someone who is both Catholic and a pro-life activist, I’m seeing little to no enthusiasm for Donald Trump,” Christian stated to CNA, noting Trump’s “past positions on abortion,” and the a campaign that has largely steered clear of the life issue.
“His past positions on abortion and clear lack of interest in the subject, which seems to be reflected in how little the issue has come up at the Convention, is making it difficult for even single issue voters to trust that he is the real deal,” Christian said.
While he criticized the Republican Party for taking “pro-life voters for granted” and failing to advance the pro-life cause beyond speeches, this year’s campaign has said little about the pro-life stance at all. “[The] reality is that very little has even been said to encourage those strongly motivated by their pro-life convictions,” he continued. “Given this and the Democratic platform’s extreme position on abortion, I’ve never seen so many pro-lifers distraught over their choices for the presidency,” Christian lamented.
He added that, as a Catholic, he is also concerned by other issues highlighted — or largely ignored— by the Trump campaign and the speeches at the RNC Convention. In addition, he criticized the party’s failure to address what he called “a marriage crisis” among working- class families, including the economic hurdles that face many couples.
“It is a serious, grave threat to the common good,” Christian told CNA. “Vague platitudes about the importance of the family are not enough. It has not been an encouraging week for serious pro-family voters.”
Religious freedom is another issue where Christian was concerned both about Trump’s proposed policies and the convention’s rhetoric. He called out Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants as “a stunning attack on religious freedom,” and explained that the move was particularly concerning when the Catholic Church and other organizations “may be facing showdowns over people and organizations having to abort children or stop their work - life and death issues.”
This week’s speeches also ran in the face of the message and policy supported by the U.S. bishops on immigration, Christian warned. “Tied in with this is the disturbing portrayal of Muslims. Syrian refugees were booed - people fleeing the barrel bombs of a murderous dictator and the totalitarian terror of ISIS,” he said. “How can a Christian boo people who are desperately seeking refuge?”
“Both parties are deeply flawed and problematic for Catholics who reject excessive individualism and the libertarianism it inspires,” Christian said, but he was particularly concerned about Trump’s rhetoric and positions.
He offered his hope that moving forward from the convention, the Republican Party would “embrace a more ‘whole life’ approach to defending life, support measures to concretely strengthen families, defend free democracy at home and abroad, and move toward a more communitarian approach to economics that is rooted in human dignity rather than market morality.”
That approach, he commented, “would allow the party to be competitive while also aligning with the core values of Catholic moral and social teaching.”
“I hope that Catholic Republicans will work to push their party away from extremism and toward a greater commitment to human life and dignity,” he added. “This entire convention should serve as a call to action and motivate them to build a better Republican Party.”