A Kentucky Catholic bishop is admonishing the Covington Catholic High School students who confronted a Native American man in Washington, D.C., in a video that went viral last week ― insisting that the teens can’t claim to be “pro-life” while wearing President Donald Trump’s “Make America great again” hats.
The Rev. John Stowe, the bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, said that being “pro-life” also means valuing the lives of immigrants and refugees ― something he said he strongly believes Trump has failed to do.
“It astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies,” Stowe wrote in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader on Wednesday.
He said he is “ashamed” that the students’ actions have contradicted the goals of the March for Life, the massive annual anti-abortion rally the teens were in D.C. to attend.
Covington Catholic High School, an all-boys school in Kentucky, stepped into the national spotlight after a video emerged last week that appeared to show its students, many wearing MAGA hats, mocking a Native American demonstrator at the Lincoln Memorial. Additional videos that emerged later from different angles presented a more complicated view of the incident, indicating that it was a three-way confrontation involving the students, Native American demonstrators and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
Covington Catholic High School, which is under the purview of the Diocese of Covington, has faced heated backlash since the incident. The school and diocese have shuttered their websites and social media accounts. Diocesan offices and the high school were closed on Tuesday after threats of violence and the possibility of large crowds of protesters, the diocese said in a statement.
Both locations reopened on Wednesday with a heavy police presence. The diocesan offices were temporarily evacuated in the afternoon after reports of a suspicious package.
On Saturday, as news of the confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial was emerging, the diocese condemned the teens’ actions and pledged to take disciplinary measures “up to and including expulsion.” After the release of the additional videos, the diocese said Tuesday that it launched a third-party investigation and is gathering facts to determine “what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate.”
Stowe said that he didn’t want to place the blame entirely on the teens or engage in a discussion about the context of the video. Instead, he said he wanted to point out that a MAGA hat has no place at the March for Life.
He said that American Catholics’ anti-abortion advocacy has become separated from the “even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person.” Catholics need to take other issues into account before deciding whether to support Trump, he said.
“We cannot uncritically ally ourselves with someone with whom we share the policy goal of ending abortion,” the bishop wrote. “While the church’s opposition to abortion has been steadfast, it has become a stand-alone issue for many and has become disconnected to other issues of human dignity.”
Surveys indicate that Stowe is not alone in American Catholic circles in his criticism of Trump. The vast majority of Hispanic Catholics (74 percent) and a slim majority of white Catholics (52 percent) surveyed said they have a negative opinion of Trump, according to a Public Religion Research Institute study conducted last fall.
While Stowe is staunchly anti-abortion, many American Catholics have more complicated views of the issue. Catholics are split about Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally, according to the PRRI. White Catholics were more likely than Hispanic Catholics to say that Roe v. Wade was decided correctly (54 percent versus 42 percent).
Still, most white Catholics (64 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (56 percent) said they are opposed to laws that would prevent federally funded health care providers from discussing abortion with their patients.
And despite the many Catholic groups that flocked to this year’s March for Life, only 40 percent of Catholics polled said that abortion is a critical concern for them.
In fact, American Catholics procure abortions at about the same rate as American women overall, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute.
If the anti-abortion movement seeks to make abortion “unthinkable,” Stowe wrote, it should also be championing “deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children.”
He pointed out that racism is also a “life” issue, echoing statements made in a pastoral letter crafted by American Catholic bishops in November. The letter condemned the recent rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in the U.S. and explicitly addressed the oppression of Native, Hispanic and black Americans.
“Students must grapple with this history and ask themselves how they are going to live differently,” Stowe wrote in his op-ed. “The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.”