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Biden, Trump platforms both clash with Catholic Church. So who will Catholic Latinos turn to?

The Trump and Biden campaigns have a delicate task ahead in courting socially conservative Latino Catholics, a group that’s ideologically opposed to core tenets of either presidential pitch.

Both platforms are rooted in stances that directly violate Catholic teachings.

Former President Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants and plans to curb the influx of migrants at the southern border are anathema to Catholic beliefs on human dignity, while Biden’s progressive-friendly stance on abortion access directly contradicts the Church’s stance on life beginning at conception.

“Latino Catholics, and I would just say Catholics obviously, have a very difficult dilemma,” said Peter Casarella, a professor at the Duke Divinity School. “I think Catholics in general and Latino Catholics in particular maybe never had a party, and certainly now in these more polemical and polarized times, find themselves between a rock and a hard place in terms of where to go to find a political home.”

Both campaigns are trying to appeal to Latino voters by contrasting the choice between them and their rival.

President Biden’s campaign is hopeful that it can make the case that Democrats are protecting Americans against the consequences of strict abortion bans and that it can recreate the 2022 midterms, when Democrats experienced better-than-expected results just months after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“Abortion was a top priority that mobilized Latinos ahead the 2022 midterm election, and it will be again this November. The startling fact is that more than 6 million Latinas in 26 states live everyday with the horrific consequences of abortion bans caused by Donald Trump,” said Maca Casado, the Biden campaign’s Hispanic media director. 

“Election after election, Latinos choose candidates who want to make their lives better, not worse. The split screen between Joe Biden’s historic agenda for Latinos and their families, and Donald Trump’s efforts to rip away our rights will be on full display this November,” Casado added.

The former president, meanwhile, is seeking to drive a wedge between Biden, the country’s second-ever Catholic president, and the Church faithful, repeating claims that the administration is persecuting Christians in general, and specifically Catholics.

“If you put me back in the White House, their reign will be over, and America will be a free nation once again. We’re not a free nation right now,” Trump said in December.

“I mean, you’re looking at school boards where they’re going after the parents, where they’re going after Catholics in particular, they’re going after…how can a Catholic vote for this group of people or Democrats? They’re going — I don’t know what it is with Catholics, they are going violently and viciously after Catholics. They’re going after Christians but they’re really going after Catholics at a level that nobody quite understands,” he added.

Trump’s broad claims of Catholic persecution stem largely from two incidents involving the FBI and conservative Catholic advocates. In one case, pro-life Catholic activist Mark Houck was arrested in an FBI raid at his house, charged with violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and later acquitted.

Houck, who is primarying Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), was charged over two 2021 altercations outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic with Bruce Love, a man who was attempting to escort women into the clinic.

The other incident comes from a House Judiciary Committee report from December, which centered on an FBI Richmond field office memo warning about the potential of extremist activities by “radical-traditionalist Catholics.”

The memo, later withdrawn by FBI Director Christopher Wray, set off a political firestorm that culminated in the House Judiciary report and a heated back-and-forth with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who accused Wray of “mobilizing” the FBI against traditionalist Catholics.

Trump is molding his appeal to Catholics around that idea of religious persecution and extending the same pitch to other Christian denominations. 

“What they’re doing to Catholics, I don’t know what’s going on with the Catholics, but they’re really being persecuted,” Trump said in December.

“Why would you vote for Biden and why would you vote for the Democrat? A new report from the House Judiciary Committee proves that the Biden FBI actually targeted Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. Do you believe this? And you know, evangelicals will not be far behind because when that starts, it starts happening on a very major scale.”

Trump isn’t focusing on a proactive case about how his campaign promises fit Catholic teachings, which are in practice subject to interpretation by individuals.

According to the Pew Research Center, self-reported church attendance by Latino Catholics rebounded after the pandemic, though only 32 percent of Hispanic Catholics reported attending services at least monthly in November 2022.

Rev. Thomas Gaunt, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University-affiliated group that conducts Church-related social science research, told The Hill that regular mass attendance is closely related to knowledge and understanding of the Church’s teachings.

“Weekly attendees are aware of what the Church teaches, whereas in the other group, the difference in knowledge is greater,” said Gaunt.

Since many Catholics either don’t know or reinterpret the Church’s teachings, individual voters can filter political appeals through a religious lens, but that lens may not fit official Catholic dogma.

Among Catholics who know, understand and accept the Church’s tenets, their beliefs are a poor fit for official party platforms.

“What ends up highlighted is there is no political party that fits the Catholic agenda,” said Gaunt.

The message that Democrats in 2022 conveyed to Latino voters, who may be more socially conservative and Catholic, is that the government shouldn’t be involved in a decision that should be made by a woman, her husband, her doctor and maybe a priest, a Biden campaign official outlined.

The campaign official has found, when talking to socially conservative Latino voters, that the exception piece of abortion laws in the states have been particularly important to them. The fact that incest and rape exceptions aren’t always present has turned them towards Democrats.

The president’s stance on in vitro fertilization (IVF) also directly contradicts the Church, which considers it to be immoral.

After the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling the embryos should be considered children, Biden was asked about the church’s position and said he doesn’t agree with it. In his State of the Union address on Thursday, he called on Congress to “guarantee the right to IVF nationwide.”

The Biden campaign official said that they have found that the issue of preserving IVF is important to socially conservative Latino voters because they tend to be very family-oriented, and the idea of keeping families away from the opportunity to grow is concerning to them.

Biden has faced increased scrutiny from conservative Catholic bishops in the U.S. over his stance on abortion access, with some supporting an effort to deny him communion that largely fell flat. Pope Francis told Biden in a conversation in 2021 that he should keep receiving communion.

But, while some Catholic Latinos may struggle with Biden’s stances on reproductive rights, Trump’s stances on migration go too far for them.

Trump’s immigration pitch has flowed straightforward from the launch of his political career, the infamous 2015 “golden escalator” speech where he generalized Mexicans as “rapists” and “murderers” who “bring crime.”

That base ideology has been built up by alliances with immigration restrictionists, such as former White House adviser Stephen Miller, who, since 2015, have become a core component of Trump’s political world.

And Trump has not been shy to use rhetoric deemed dehumanizing by immigrant advocates — and generally frowned upon by Catholic doctrine — or to politicize individual criminal actions such as the slaying of Georgia college student Laken Riley in an effort to demonize broad groups of immigrants.

While Biden has tacked to the center on immigration, he has generally been careful to avoid anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But at his State of the Union, Biden called Riley’s alleged killer an “illegal” in response to heckling from Rep. Marjorie Greene (R-Ga.).

Biden’s use of the term drew pushback from immigrant advocates and some Democrats, dismayed that Trump’s language — though prompted by Greene — made it into Biden’s vocabulary.

“As a proud immigrant, I was beyond disappointed to hear the President use the word ‘illegal’ in his speech. Beyond this, the President missed an opportunity to unite our country on immigration. He did not lay out a plan that addresses the root causes of what brings people to our border or ensures immigrants are treated with dignity and respect in our communities,” Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.) said in his response to Biden’s speech.

Biden-Harris 2024 co-chair Mitch Landrieu on Friday dismissed Biden’s use of the term as a “small mistake” that should be understood in the larger context of his empathy with Riley’s family.

Yet Biden’s slip highlights how Trump has successfully set the agenda on immigration over the past decade, in part by re-normalizing language that had all but disappeared from mainstream politics.

“The language on immigration has just gotten out of control,” Casarella said. “And when former President Trump talks about ‘poison in the blood,’ and ‘these foreigners are bad people,’ I don’t see how Latinos can abstract themselves from that kind of conversation as if they weren’t involved in it.”

Source: The Hill

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