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  • September 21, 2017
  • 2:37 pm

60: IPS Dean Schmisek Reflects On A Troubling Number

September 21, 2017

In light of recent events, IPS Dean Brian Schmisek penned an opinion piece reflecting on the rising sentiments of racism and sexual assault we are seeing in the national discourse.

Add your thoughts to the discussion below.

By Brian Schmisek

60.  That number is the percent of white Catholics who voted for President Trump, the candidate who admitted to the behavior of a sexual predator and appealed openly to racism. Even a leader of his own party said his words were the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Now that the election is over and we are in the first year of the Trump administration, will the USCCB be calling for a ‘fortnight of freedom’ for women, immigrants, and minorities? Or will the focus remain on “religious liberty” and the contraceptive mandate? Those on the right claim the Supreme Court vacancy was the crucial factor in electing Trump. Does this grand prize, Gorsuch on the bench, excuse or at least rationalize the behavior of the chief executive? Though there are many things to critique about a Trump administration, this troubling number, 60, deserves attention from US Catholics for what it says about us.

Since the 1980s many quarters of Catholic leadership, including some US Bishops, reduced the pro-life issue to abortion, saying it was so beyond the pale that any candidate who openly supported a pro-choice position was thereby ineligible for consideration for elected office by Catholics. About ten years ago, some bishops claimed it was the defining moral issue of the last thirty-five years. Many bishops spoke about denying communion to such politicians, and the fervor increased with each election year. Even if this was never the official position of the USCCB, many thought leaders in conservative Catholic circles argued for that position and it took deep root in the hierarchy and among many of the faithful.

Now, while the US Catholic hierarchy and their conservative allies were focused on that issue, we have elected a President who denigrated entire classes of people based on race, and admitted to, even bragged about sexual assault. Apparently, as 60% of the white Catholic vote indicates, these were not disqualifying factors. In fact, According to the Pew Research Center, Trump received a greater percentage of the votes of white Catholics than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, in at least 20 years. Indeed, from another more recent study by Pew, comes this startling line: “And among white Catholics – as with white evangelicals – those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month are more approving of Trump’s job performance than are white Catholics who attend Mass less often (61% vs. 44%).”

This overwhelming support from churchgoers seems to be a clarion call that something is wrong with our priorities. There is a problem with the way we are educating and catechizing our people when a blatant racist empowering alt-right groups, neo-Nazis, and other fringe elements receives 3 out of 5 votes from white Catholics, and stronger approval from Mass attending Catholics than not. Trump’s cultivation of support from these extreme groups was mocked in a spoof commercial of “Racists for Trump” on Saturday Night Live, but after a marked increase in hate crimes and violence from what he has unleashed, the stakes have been raised. We need to take a closer look at our role and ourselves as Catholics in this unique time.

Rather than seek to remove the splinter of the contraceptive mandate from the eye of the Affordable Care Act, the bishops would do better to remove the log from their own and that of their flock. Though it pains me and even shames me to say it, that log is latent, pernicious racism, and the minimization of sexual assault among the white Catholic faithful. That log is excusing behavior we would not accept in our children to achieve a seat on the Supreme Court with the hope of ending the contraceptive mandate.

Immediately I can hear the reply that elections are complicated affairs with a variety of issues at stake; white Catholics are not racists and do not minimize sexual assault. I would like to agree. But the election results and the racial divisions it exposed should cause us to reconsider. Where were the letters from US bishops that seem to have been so plentiful in previous presidential cycles? When a candidate is so openly racist and misogynistic, might he have been disqualified from consideration by followers of Jesus who claim to love their neighbor?

The fact that a majority of white Catholics thought such a vote acceptable means there is much work to do, more leadership needed from our bishops. For example, the USCCB might devote at least as much energy to eradicating racism and the trivialization of sexual assault as they do the contraceptive mandate. There is much in Scripture about hospitality, treatment of the other, the stranger, the alien, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan. It says nothing about a contraceptive mandate. Some bishops have even been ahead of the curve and already spoken about these issues. For example, one of the few African American bishops, Bishop Braxton, published a Text and Study Guide on the topic. This is part of a solid foundation on which to build.

The election of Trump has seen fathers deported, families torn apart, mothers separated from their children, and policies called ‘inhumane’ and ‘contrary to the values of the country and its legal system,’ by at least one federal judge. Hate crimes are increasing; as is violence against minorities. Closeted racism, never locked away tightly, has emerged with a frightening boldness. The free press is threatened; truth itself is under assault with alternative facts and propaganda “news.” A ‘meanness’ and viciousness drives this administration that tears at the fabric of society, and the meaning of truth itself. It’s as though Trump is echoing the words of Pilate, “What is truth?” The contraceptive mandate and the creation of a permanent committee for religious freedom seems to be among the least of our concerns, akin to chasing windmills in the storm of racism and assault.

Was the election of a bigot and braggadocios predator worth a seat on the Supreme Court? Have we given the modern equivalent of 30 pieces of silver for that one vote? If so, there is nothing we can do now but run into the darkness and weep, hoping against hope that at some future resurrection we as a church will be forgiven by a Risen Christ who will embolden us with the command issued three times: feed my sheep. Then, the church will experience a rebirth with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost. On that day, our priorities will reflect Jesus, his commands and his mission. We will welcome the stranger, protect the widow and the orphan, and love our neighbor as Christ loves us.

  • By Timothy O'Connel on 9.21.2017 at 9:12 pm

    A statement that is accurate and pertinent. That is also seems courageous is, itself, a sad commentary on our times. Would that more ministerial leaders – ordained and not – would be as forthright!

  • By Beatrice Phelps on 9.24.2017 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you for writing this piece. There is so much work to do!

  • By Fr Manuel Williams, C.R. on 9.25.2017 at 2:15 am

    Thank you Professor for stating the scandal and sin of our Church so boldly and plainly. As the late Sister athwart Bowman, FSPA, used to say you told the “true truth”!

  • By Kathy Ponce on 9.26.2017 at 9:50 am

    Thank you for writing this excellent opinion piece, Brian. Most valuable to me is your fourth paragraph that calls us to examine the ways in which we Catholics are educating and catechizing our members of all ages. I most definitely will forward your article to my friends and colleagues, as every sentence in this piece seems to be so “right on”. Truth for the taking!

  • By maria cabello on 9.26.2017 at 11:26 am

    I couldn’t agree more with your statement. I work in a community where the policies of the new administration have deeply affected the families. It’s incomprehensible that so many catholics voted for that one issue instead of looking at the broader picture – how do we love one another.

  • By Valentine Akpa on 9.26.2017 at 11:45 am

    Your piece brings to light how little morality informs Catholic actions. More telling is the silence of Catholic hierarchy, disguised in pro-life priorities, in the face of current brute denigration.

  • By Bill Patten on 9.26.2017 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for courageously pointing out that the concept of “Pro-Life” should encompass ALL basic human rights. And thank you for calling out Trump for what he is—a divisive fear-mongering bigot.The number 60% is indeed sobering.

  • By Julie Lipford on 9.26.2017 at 12:01 pm

    I breathe a sigh of relief as I read this and appreciate your perspective. I am a hesitant Catholic and have aligned myself with LUC and IPS and in turn the Church only to find a priest at my local parish advising parishioners, before the 2017 presidential election, that it is not sinful to vote on “one issue” and this was in light of the misogyny and racism that was already apparent with, then candidate, Trump. Then to see the 60 percent was heartbreaking. Thank you Professor for calling out the Catholic community on topics that need to be discussed, better understood and addressed before many of us can be able and open to trusting the Catholic Church to do what we know in our hearts is true and just.

  • By Cory Mitchell on 9.26.2017 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you indeed Brian!!!

    As an African American Catholic, I feel like an outcast. If I can not feel loved in COMMUNION, where can I feel loved? On the Mass after the events in Charlottesville, I hoped to hear words of solidarity, compassion, justice, and solace; I heard none of those ideals in the liturgy. In fact, church leaders have been silent on the issue. However, once Harvey hit, I received no less than three push messages for special Masses to support hurricane victims. Both are important.

    To be sure, the American Catholic hierarchy has lost a lot of moral relevance in my eyes. But I’m hopeful that they will see me and other blacks as equal human beings worthy of dignity and Agape. It is sad that we are now as in need of prophets as we were during Jim Crow. Prophets, please stand up.

    Pax et bonum,


  • By Tamara Franco on 9.26.2017 at 1:58 pm

    The Time Has Come. We can not allow verbal or physical violence or any other kind of abuse contaminate the message of our highest leader JESUS CHRIST.
    This is the time to reshape and detoxify the pillars of our faith.

    I am very proud to be a of the IPS family.

  • By Tamara Franco on 9.26.2017 at 2:09 pm

    Excellent Dr. Schmisek,

  • By Joe Paprocki on 9.27.2017 at 8:49 am

    Excellent piece, Brian! Needed to be said. Thank you!

  • By E. Kadera on 9.27.2017 at 2:17 pm

    Faustian bargains never go well…

  • By Rose Pastrana on 9.28.2017 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you! The number 60 is disheartening indeed! Pro-life goes beyond the abortion issue, it has to address seeing the human dignity in all!

  • By Nancy Paul, M.A.P.C. on 9.29.2017 at 10:37 am

    I would just add that Trump and his followers are probably wounded, scared people. Can we disagree with them and protest in a way that is humane, “pro-life,” and effective?

  • By Peg Lanctot on 9.29.2017 at 4:19 pm

    Thank your for this eye-opening piece. It is disheartening to me that as a country we are still so divided on racial, pro-life and immigration issues. It saddens me to hear that 60% of churchgoing, white Catholics are supporting a president who is so controversial and divisive.