What do you do when you need the Catholic vote, but mainstream Catholic leadership wants nothing to do with you? Easy: you make friends with the Catholic Deplorables.
Recently, the presidential Twitter account has tweeted out support for two figures that might be considered Catholic Deplorables: Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, an ex-papal nuncio to the USA, currently in hiding, who famously accused Pope Francis and other senior Vatican officials of helping to conceal the crimes of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and Dr Taylor Marshall, a popular blogger and Catholic author.
The term ‘basket of deplorables’ backfired spectacularly on Hillary Clinton last election season, when Trump supporters seized upon it as a badge of honor. As Rich Lowry wrote for Politico in 2017, ‘deplorable’ came to mean ‘an unfair, disparaging term for people who believe reasonable but politically incorrect things.’ That’s a fair description of what one might facetiously call the Catholic Deplorables: Catholics who hold opinions that are reasonable but politically incorrect.
The Catholic Deplorables are, generally speaking, devout and intellectually engaged Catholics who have lost confidence in the hierarchy, who are scandalized by clerical immorality and the bishops’ seeming inability to transmit the Catholic Faith — a recent Pew survey showed just how ineffective Catholic shepherds have become, revealing that only 31 percent of self-described Catholics now believe the Holy Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet this doctrine is absolutely fundamental to Catholicism. Catholic Deplorables like Archbishop Viganò and Dr Taylor Marshall believe these problems stem from changes in the Mass and Church teaching that occurred in the 1960s at the time of the Second Vatican Council. A heavy stigma is attached to such opinions in mainstream Catholic circles, where obedience to the hierarchy is considered the supreme hallmark of faithful Catholicism.
Why has the President turned to the Catholic Deplorables? Well, according to unnamed White House sources cited in a Catholic News Agency report, Dan Scavino, who handles the President’s social media, and Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the President, have concluded that the US bishops are ‘all shades of Pope Francis’, especially with regard to immigration. Instead of chasing after hard-to-please bishops, these sources say the campaign will now focus on cultivating Catholic support ‘from leadership figures outside the mainstream’.
The decision to shine the presidential spotlight on Archbishop Viganò seemed a direct response to the heavy-handed condemnation issued by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC after the President paid a visit to the John Paul II National Shrine on June 2. ‘I find it baffling and reprehensible’, Archbishop Gregory wrote, apparently angered by Trump’s response to rioting,’that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.’
From his hiding place, Archbishop Viganò, who as former nuncio is well-acquainted with the D.C. scene, rose to the President’s defense with a statement calling Archbishop Gregory a ‘false shepherd’ and commiserating with the Archdiocese of Washington on its scandal-ridden recent history. Viganò then wrote an open letter to the President, praising his pro-life and pro-religious actions, and warning him that just as there is a ‘deep state’, so there is a ‘deep church’, subservient to ‘globalism’ and to those who promote a ‘universal brotherhood’ that aims at ‘driving God out of the courts, out of schools, out of families, and perhaps even out of churches.’
The President responded to this show of support by tweeting Viganò’s letter out to his 83 million followers, commenting, ‘So honored by Archbishop Viganò’s incredible letter to me. I hope everyone, religious or not, reads it!’
Compounding mainstream Catholic displeasure was the fact that Viganò had that same week, in true Catholic Deplorable style, issued a severe critique of the Second Vatican Council, to which attention was inevitably drawn by Trump’s Twitter message—just the sort of thing that makes middle-of-the-road conservatives die a little inside.
Damage control followed, together with attempts to paint Viganò as a disappointed career diplomat and conspiracy theorist. Some wondered whether the Vatican would condemn his startling anti-Vatican II stance outright. This, after all, was the treatment meted out to the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, also a former Vatican diplomat and the founder of the Society of Saint Pius X, a traditional Catholic group with whom Dr. Taylor Marshall, the other Catholic Deplorable to feature on Trump’s Twitter feed, has been linked.
But as both Viganò and the Vatican well know, any attempt to condemn Viganò’s position on Vatican II would be devoid of credibility should his electrifying allegations on what Pope Francis knew about McCarrick remain unaddressed—something the Vatican has successfully avoided dealing with for now two years running.
Will the new strategy pay off? Probably. President Trump will find the Catholic Deplorables reliable and loyal supporters, if he can rally enough of them to make a difference to that elusive Catholic vote. They know Trump is no saint, but they don’t expect him to be: they think he is the kind of man they can deal with, a straight shooter, a man who—whatever his motivations—is not ashamed to espouse the pro-life cause or talk about Jesus Christ in public, a man who has shown loyalty to his friends and who remains unshaken by the mockery and contempt of his enemies. There’s nothing more Deplorable than that.