Cardinal Dolan Should Apologize to Trump

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has chosen to enter the political fray by accusing Donald Trump, in a NY Daily News column, of being a reincarnation of 19th century “Nativism.” Why? Simply because Trump has made some rather harsh statements related to illegal immigration at our southern border. I suspect Trump would absolutely deny that he is anti-immigration, but he readily asserts that this illegal migration is bringing a lot of criminals into the country along with good people who are entering the country illegally. Our government’s own statistics tend to support that contention, and there are many Catholics who lament the failure to secure the border.

But, by accusing Trump of being a “Nativist” because Trump thinks that many of the illegals are dangerous criminals, the cardinal is, at least implicitly, accusing Trump of being anti-Catholic as well. The Cardinal, a historian, explicitly defines Nativism in terms of being both anti-immigration and anti-Catholic. His column states: (definition 1) “Nativists believed the immigrant to be dangerous, and that America was better off without them”; and adds (definition 2) that they represented, “organized, white, Protestant antagonism toward the Catholic immigrant.” And adds, “I wish I were in the college classroom again, so I could roll out my ‘Trump card’ to show the students that I was right. Nativism is alive, well – and apparently popular!”

He skips over the critical factor or distinguishing character of both Nativism and the Know Nothing party that embodied it politically. The Nativists were indeed violently opposed to Catholic immigration. They hated the Catholic Church and wanted to keep the country free from Catholic influence, period. Nativists may have accused the Catholic immigrants of being, as Dolan states, “criminals and misfits” for political purposes, but they would have opposed them even if the immigrants were model citizens. They were Catholic; for the Nativists, that was enough.

Now, I don’t think that Cardinal Dolan really believes Donald Trump is anti-Catholic. But if he does, then he – and we – would need more evidence than what Trump has said so far. Otherwise, the statement by the cardinal must apply to an awful lot of Catholics as well, since a not inconsiderable number of Catholics also think the country is in real danger for the same reason Donald Trump does: because our government, in failing to secure the southern border, is allowing many criminals to enter the country, and even releasing some who went on to commit crimes.

Whether Trump is factually right or wrong in his opposition to illegal immigration – I have never seen anything he’s said against legal immigration – he has never once, as far as I can determine, said he is opposed because the illegals are Catholics! And the hallmark of Nativism was precisely anti-Catholicism.


Since the Cardinal has brought the subject up, however, there are in fact candidates who have some of the marks of the old Nativist anti-Catholics. They remind you of John Jay, Supreme Court Chief Justice and a forerunner of Nativism, who wanted Catholics in New York to lose their religious liberty unless “they renounce and believe to be false and wicked, the dangerous and damnable doctrine, that the pope, or any other earthly authority, have power to absolve men from sins, described in, and prohibited by the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ; and particularly, that no pope, priest or foreign authority on earth, hath power to absolve them from the obligation of this oath.”

Indeed, there is a whole party today, including the president, who wants to take religious liberty away from Catholics if they refuse to violate their consciences regarding contraception and abortion – it will soon be the same with same sex marriage. And they make no bones about it. Likewise, the leading candidate of that party for the 2016 presidential elections is also hostile to the religious liberty of Catholics who do not submit to the government’s immoral mandates. Indeed, you can no longer be a Catholic who is fully committed in faith to Catholic moral teaching have a chance to be nominated by that party to become president.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may not be Nativists, strictly speaking, but they are surely cultural activists who want to undo the Christian moral order. As Thomas Bertonneau has observed:

Western elites, those who currently control the society and wish to use their authority to alter and reconstitute the established order, have parted company with longstanding Western traditions, including the sovereignty of conscience. The mutation of classical liberalism into contemporary politically correct totalitarianism is not surprising. The glee with which the Obama regime is today trying to force Catholics against their consciences to pay for contraception and abortion signals the long-range plan of the Obama regime – nothing less than the humiliation followed by the abolition of normative morality as the basis of national life.

I think that about describes the present situation of the Church, and it might have been more apt for a Churchman to speak about this threat than about Donald Trump. Who, in the end, really presents a greater threat to Catholicism and religious liberty, Hillary or Donald?

I am no big fan of Trump’s, and I want someone else to be our next president. But it is unworthy of a high Church official to casually accuse this man of being aligned with the most bigoted and violent elements of the Nativist movement, people who literally burned down Catholic Churches and killed Catholics, as well as opposed their immigrating to this country. Where’s the proof? It’s common now for Churchmen to apologize for past wrongs. Cardinal Dolan owes Donald Trump an apology for this present wrong.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at