Is the Catholic Church Turning On Trump? U.S. Bishops Slam Immigration Proposals as 'Discriminatory'

Pope and Trumps
Pope Francis walks along with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24. ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AFP/Getty

The ups and downs of the relationship between President Donald Trump and Pope Francis have been well-documented.

From the pope suggesting that Trump's proposal to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico was "not Christian" to Francis welcoming the president and his family to the Vatican in May, the pair have had an interesting relationship.

But the Catholic Church appears to be taking a harder stance on the Trump administration. U.S. bishops have criticized proposed immigration legislation backed by Trump as "discriminatory" and urged Congress and the president to reject it.

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, criticized the RAISE Act introduced by two Republican senators on Thursday, the Catholic Herald reported.

Related: "We've got the White House on speed dial." How evangelicals are influencing Trump

The proposed legislation—the full name of which is the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act—would cut immigration by 41 percent in its first year and by 50 percent over a 10-year-period, The Guardian reported.

At a White House unveiling of the proposal on Wednesday, Trump said that the bill represented "the most significant reform to our immigration system in a half century." The president also said it would create a "merit-based immigration system that protects American workers and taxpayers."

Trump immigration reform
U.S. President Donald Trump, pictured with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), makes an announcement on the introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 2. Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty

The bill is being co-sponsored by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, and would prioritize immigrants who can speak English or are well-educated. The bill would also permanently cap the number of refugees allowed safe passage.

I campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers & taxpayers. Watch: #RAISEAct

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2017

But the church took a different view. "Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago, many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded," said Vasquez, according to the Catholic Herald.

Vasquez added that the bill would negatively impact families and undermined the contribution of immigrants to the United States. The bishop called upon Congress and the Trump administration to "work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact into law comprehensive immigration reform."

Catholics marginally backed Trump in the November 2016 election. Fifty-two percent of Catholics voted for the Republican candidate over 45 percent who voted for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, according to a Pew Research Center poll, although two-thirds of Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton. The Catholic archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, read from the Bible at the inauguration of President Trump on January 20.

Timothy Dolan
Cardinal Timothy Dolan delivers remarks at the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20. Alex Wong/Getty

Trump said that it was the "honor of a lifetime" to meet Francis after his visit to the Vatican in May, appearing to smooth over their previous public disagreements.

But in a recent development, two close associates of the pope wrote a stinging criticism of conservative American Catholics for creating an alliance of "hate" with U.S. evangelicals to support President Trump.

The article was published in La Civilta Cattolica, a Vatican-vetted journal, though it is not clear whether the pope approved of the content. In it, the authors—Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit journalist who has interviewed the pope, and Marcelo Figueroa, an Argentine friend of Francis—said that the worldview of hardline U.S. Catholics, based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, was "not too far apart" from fundamentalist jihadis. The authors also singled out Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, as "a supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics."

At around 22 percent, Catholics make up the single largest religious group in the United States, and so the Trump administration will not want to disenfranchise them. But elements in the U.S. Catholic leadership have made it clear they intend to call out the president's policies when they see fit.