When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had a complaint about something done by President Barack Obama, it complained about President Obama. But as Catholic lay educator Michael Bayer points out, things are strangely different when it’s talking about Donald Trump.
For example, a series of press releases produced by the USCCB on the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011 all begin the same way, with the words, “The Obama administration.” So do releases about contraception. And President Obama appears in these releases, being addressed, by name, as the author of the policies against which the bishops are speaking up in opposition. So, for example, a September 22, 2011, note began by talking about “The Obama administration’s fight against the Defense of Marriage Act” and declared that the bishops were sending a “letter to President Barack Obama.”
But flash forward to 2019, and something peculiar has happened. It seems that the Catholic bishops have lost the ability to name names. Or at the very least, they lack the ability to write one very specific name.
In edict after edict on the topics of immigration and asylum, the USCCB opposes “the federal government” or “the department of Homeland Security” or “the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” A July 19, 2019, release on refugees does mention “the Administration.” But unlike all those releases during the Obama presidency, what it doesn’t include is a name.
None of the releases describe the policy on immigration, refugees, or asylum-seekers as coming from “the Trump administration.” None of them feature a letter directed to Donald Trump.
It’s almost as if the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was perfectly happy to use Barack Obama’s name because it wasn’t afraid to be seen standing up to a black president over the rights of LGBTQ Americans. But when it’s a matter of standing up to Trump to help immigrants, even if those immigrants are overwhelmingly Catholic—courage is a victim of some very careful copy editing.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that any bishop saying Trump’s name is taking an existential risk of the lightning-bolt variety. But what it looks like is cowardice.