While Trump drew support from some prominent Catholics during his 2016 campaign, especially those advocating for pro-life policies, others, including some prominent conservative Catholics, were critical of the Trump campaign.
In March 2016, as Trump's nomination as the Republican presidential candidate gained momentum, prominent Catholic intellectuals Robert George and George Weigel wrote "an appeal to our fellow Catholics," arguing that Trump "is manifestly unfit to be President of the United States." They cited the "vulgarity" of his campaign, "appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice," and a lack of confidence in his pro-life and pro-religious freedom credentials.
Although initial reports claimed that Trump won the Catholic vote in 2016, a 2020 RealClear Opinion Research poll sponsored by EWTN found that, of the Catholics surveyed nationwide, Hillary Clinton won the Catholic vote in 2016 with 48% to Trump's 46%.
Just after Trump was elected president in November 2016, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles noted the fears of immigrants at a prayer service, saying that "men and women are worried and anxious, thinking about where they can run and hide. This is happening tonight, in America." He pledged to "our brothers and sisters who are undocumented – we will never leave you alone."
U.S. bishops, including Gomez, have continued to raise concern about the administration's immigration policy, though in 2018, Gomez did praise an executive order from the White House calling for an end to family separation policies, and called for bipartisan congressional action on immigration reform.
In 2017 Pope Francis received Trump in a Vatican audience.
According to a May 24, 2017 Vatican communique, Pope Francis and Trump expressed satisfaction "for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."
Earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence also met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
On Thursday, Catholics for Trump leaders promised to make the group a "movement," and to demonstrate that Trump is upholding Catholic social teaching by preventing "activist" judges in the courts, protecting religious institutions from coercive government mandates, upholding pro-life policies, and strengthening the economy.
"I think the most important thing we can do is to be a vehicle to deliver the truth," Matt Schlapp said, to share "how Catholics should adjudicate the issues that our society faces."
In an era when many are weary of "fake news," Schlapp said, "let's make sure that we're a place where people can quickly find the facts and figure out what's going on."
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One of the group's priorities will be to emphasize Trump's leadership during the global COVID-19 pandemic, leaders said.
"President Trump does talk about hope," Mercedes Schlapp said on Thursday.
Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life and a co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign's pro-life coalition, is also a member of the Catholics for Trump advisory board.
Pavone said on Thursday's broadcast that "this coalition is going to be truly a movement where Catholics rise up and say, 'hey look, everything that the Church has been saying, we're seeing it unfold before our eyes, not like magic, but with strong effort and united effort under this president.'"
"Thank God he's the one leading us through this," Fr. Pavone said, in reference to the pandemic.
Trump is bringing together various federal agencies, the private sector, and state and localities, the priest said, and "is articulating what we're all feeling" right now