In the Detroit-area, fear is spreading among Michigan's sizable Middle Eastern Christian community as federal agents conducted immigration raids this week that could result in the deportations of Christians facing persecution back in Iraq. Meanwhile, in Washington, Republican senators are reportedly finalizing a bill that, if passed, could strip millions of Americans of health insurance. And governors and mayors throughout the country are still figuring out what role the nation will play in protecting the planet as the United States begins withdrawing from the Paris climate accords.
Against this backdrop, Catholic bishops of the United States will gather in Indianapolis on June 14-15 for their annual spring meeting, where, like millions of ordinary Americans, they will discuss the burning political issues of the day and consider what they can contribute to the conversation. Some of the issues on the agenda—immigration and health care specifically—have already caused a great deal of tension between the White House and Catholic leaders, while others, such as religious freedom, present an opportunity for collaboration.
In the six months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the body representing the nation’s more than 400 bishops has repeatedly expressed disappointment with several of his priorities. Through statements and interviews, Catholic bishops have cheered court decisions blocking Mr. Trump’s self-described travel ban targeting majority-Muslim nations, condemned his plan to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and challenged his support for repealing Obamacare.
More recently, bishops called his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord “deeply troubling” and expressed concern over how the president’s proposed budget may impact the social safety net.
On the other hand, bishops are also discerning where they might share common ground with Mr. Trump, with the church’s views on religious liberty, anti-Christian persecution and abortion seeming to align with the president’s. In those areas, there have already been signs that church leaders are willing to work with the White House.
Last month, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo were on hand for a Rose Garden signing ceremony of an executive order that Mr. Trump said will bolster religious liberty in the United States. (In addition to ordering the I.R.S. not to investigate churches that engage in partisan politics, it also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to devise regulations that could allow employers with objections to providing insurance coverage for contraception to opt out of Obama-era laws.) During their Indianapolis meeting, bishops will consider making permanent an ad hoc religious liberty committee. That would mean initiatives meant to promote religious freedom, such as the Fortnight for Freedom, which started as a protest against Obama-era health care regulations, could become permanent.
On the abortion front, some bishops have praised decisions by the Trump administration to reinstate a rule that prevents federal dollars from funding abortions overseas and to support efforts to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood clinics.
When it comes to international religious freedom, it is unclear how Mr. Trump will follow through on campaign promises to assist Christians facing religious persecution in the Middle East. Mr. Trump discussed that issue with Pope Francis during their Vatican meeting in May. A White House statement following the meeting said the pair discussed “how religious communities can combat human suffering in crisis regions, such as Syria, Libya, and ISIS-controlled territory.”
“The President affirmed that the United States and the Holy See share many fundamental values and seek to engage globally to promote human rights, combat human suffering and protect religious freedom,” it continued.
Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence sought to assure Catholic leaders that they have a partner in the White House, pointing to the Trump administration’s stance on abortion and religious freedom. Addressing the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Pence proclaimed, “American Catholics have an ally in President Donald Trump.
“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of this administration,” he continued, though he did not offer specifics on how the administration would fulfill the promise. During his speech, Mr. Pence did not address other issues bishops have identified as priorities, such as immigration, health care, poverty or climate change.
In addition to political issues, bishops also plan to discuss how the church in the United States is preparing for a 2018 Vatican meeting about young people in the church and will celebrate a Mass intended to promote prayer and penance over the church’s mishandling of clergy sexual abuse.