DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If you spend any time watching Joe Biden speak over the years, you know that he is a Catholic. It is part of his political identity, which is convenient as Catholics make up a large part of the population in states where the election is likely to be decided. Not surprisingly, the Trump campaign is making a pitch for their support as well, and this is just dividing the church more. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Catholic Church's official view on how to think about voting is in a document called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The bottom line - the church aims to influence parties but does not side with one. Under U.S. law, it can't. Chieko Noguchi is spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
CHIEKO NOGUCHI: Part of the church's mission is to shape the moral character of society. But the church isn't aligned with any political party, and it doesn't support or oppose any candidate for elected office.
GJELTEN: That is not the message President Trump wants Catholics to hear. His campaign has organized a Catholics for Trump movement. On a recent Saturday, Trump hosted a call with Catholic leaders, reportedly asking them to support his reelection. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is said to have boasted how often he speaks with the president on the phone. In turn, Trump announced he'd watch Cardinal Dolan's online service the next day at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. On the following Monday, Dolan was interviewed on Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
TIMOTHY DOLAN: And it was sure good...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes.
DOLAN: ...To have the president with us yesterday. He's been - I really salute his leadership.
GJELTEN: Progressive Catholics and others who want to keep their church out of politics were dismayed. In an editorial, The National Catholic Reporter called the exchange between Dolan and the president cringe worthy. Heidi Schlumpf is the magazine's editor-in-chief.
HEIDI SCHLUMPF: We think Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the other bishops who were on that call - but especially him - that he was really making a mistake in letting this president co-opt him in an attempt to get Catholic votes.
GJELTEN: But many conservative Catholics are all-in for Trump. The group CatholicVote.org hosted a town hall last week with Mick Mulvaney, Trump's former chief of staff and a devout Catholic. Former Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp had the key question.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TIM HUELSKAMP: If you had one message for Catholics out there in the upcoming election, what would it be?
GJELTEN: Mulvaney's answer - Catholics shouldn't vote for a Democrat.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICK MULVANEY: There is something that doesn't connect anymore between faith and the Democrat party. And you may like Democrats; you may want to vote for them. But you put the Democrats in charge and the values that you carry as a Roman Catholic are going to suffer.
GJELTEN: Like everyone else, Catholics are divided. The church's opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage inclines many of them to support Republican candidates. But it also advocates for immigrants and the poor and opposes the death penalty. Heidi Schlumpf of the National Catholic Reporter says the faithful should keep all the church positions in mind.
SCHLUMPF: Church teaching says that we need to have a consistent ethic of life, where we look at all human life as valuable. That's why we see this cozying up with one party over a specific issue - and again, admittedly an important issue for many Catholics - as problematic.
GJELTEN: Surveys suggest that most Catholics voted for Trump in the last election. But this year, Joe Biden is his likely opponent, and Latinos who did not support Trump last time around are now a growing share of Catholic voters. So the competition to win their support is likely to be fierce.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.