VATICAN CITY — On his way back from Colombia, Pope Francis said he hoped President Donald Trump would reconsider his decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as part of a pro-life ethic that defends the unity of families.
The Holy Father said he had heard the president is pro-life, but if such an attribution is to be made, then he expected Trump to look again at his decision to take steps to end DACA. Trump subsequently appeared to be responding as the Pope had communicated, meeting with Democratic leaders of Congress on Sept. 13 in pursuit of a political deal that would secure legislative protection for DACA recipients.
And for many Catholics involved in defending life, such as John Klink, a former adviser to the Holy See at the United Nations from 1988 to 2001, the president already has been notably pro-life.
Speaking to the Register Sept. 6 in Rome, Klink — who served as president of the International Catholic Migration Commission from 2007 until 2014 and is a member of Trump’s Catholic advisory group —
praised Trump for reinstating the Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funding of abortions abroad, his appointment of pro-life Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court Justice, and taking steps to defund Planned Parenthood.
He also responded to accusations that Trump fails to defend life when it comes to immigration and other social-justice issues, voiced concern that efforts to rescind the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate are not strong enough, and discussed the chances of overturning Roe v. Wade during this administration.
What is your overall assessment of Donald Trump’s pro-life record, so far?
Let me first say that when I was asked to be a member of the Catholic advisory group, there were very clear guidelines that we, as Catholics, wanted to make sure were front and center of the vision of the new presidency. And those Catholic guidelines began with the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which St. John Paul II had very, very carefully and forcefully promoted throughout the course of his pontificate, together with his friend, Ronald Reagan.
One has to remember that those days, before the Mexico City Policy, the Soviets, whom we now call the Russians, were very much using family planning as a means to insert abortion and get international funding for it. So the Mexico City Policy made sure that did not happen. It excluded abortion as a means of family planning once and for all.
Then the next step the anti-life pro-abortion people wanted to do was to change the rubric so that the words sounded good. The words they used in that case was “reproductive health,” “reproductive health care” and “reproductive services” — services being the worst.
So it was the Mexico City Policy that made sure we were not going to allow [U.S.] funding for anything that provided for abortion, under whatever rubric it happened to be. So its reinstatement was the first thing we put at the top of our list of Catholic-inspired policies.
And it was the first presidential act President Trump made?
It was, and it’s important to point out the Mexico City Policy now has far greater reach then it did under any other president: In the past, it involved around $600 million; now it touches $8-billion worth of health programming.
The second part of that was to deconstruct all of the executive orders that were destructive to life and to religious freedom. That was the second thing that he did.
Have there been any disappointments, so far?
In terms of pro-life, I don’t think there have been any. Let me just run through some of the things he has done — and this is just in the first eight months. Personnel is policy, and policy is personnel, so he has made sure that [for] those major positions he feels will have a bearing on policy, [he has] pro-life people, beginning with the vice president. The vice president is a very, very committed vice president. Then you have Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary [of Health and Human Services] Tom Price, Kelly Anne Conway, Charmaine Yoest and Theresa Manning at the HHS.
Then the second thing he did, which was stellar, was to defund the U.N. Population Fund, because the U.N. Population Fund is the one that ends up writing all of these pro-abortion policies at the United Nations. UNFPA actually pays for delegates from other countries to sit on their respective country’s delegation and change the voting of the delegation once they come to the meeting. Individual delegates told us when I was on the Holy See delegations that they were paid $450 a day, plus their hotel room, to be sure of their vote. As one of my African colleagues on the Holy See delegation said: “Where else are they going to be able to make that kind of money?” So that is a corruption that needed to be stopped.
And it has been stopped?
The end is in sight. And then he enacted the congressional review act that allows states the option to prioritize Title X funding away from Planned Parenthood. If the government doesn’t fund Planned Parenthood, it will collapse. What does that say? It says it isn’t a good in itself; it’s not the people’s choice; it’s what some in government think is expedient for them to get re-elected.
If Planned Parenthood is as popular as it says it is, it should have no trouble raising its needed funds from its constituents and wean itself from government entitlements. It’s the American way. Part of “draining the swamp” gets rid of Planned Parenthood.
And then there was the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Probably the most important thing in the longer term is the nomination of a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court. That was done so fast it made people’s heads spin. He has the possibility of putting in two more, God willing.
And his HHS draft interim rule — it’s not strong enough, frankly, but it is a first step to undoing the Obama-imposed HHS mandate and protecting the conscience rights of groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.
When President Trump announced this [interim rule], he had them come up to the podium — they were just sitting there — and I happened to be with them that night, and they were just so humbled they had been recognized by the president of the United States, because they were just so used to being pummeled by the previous president. And people stash that in their memory banks. So it’s a sea change.
Then I was also pleased to see the president supported the little baby Charlie Gard. So his heart in all of those things is in the right place, and I’ve lived through and worked through the administrations of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama, and obviously Clinton and Obama are not to be counted in any way in favor of life. They’re just the opposite. But in terms of all of these presidents — and, of course, George Bush Sr. — this is the strongest pro-life president we’ve seen.
What still needs to be done in the pro-life area that you think is vital for the administration to achieve?
The interim rule is not strong enough, what Trump submitted, and a lot of people who count think that needs to be even tougher. It is deeply concerning for many that we have no final rule regarding the contraceptive mandate. The nuns are still waiting for the courts to come back and give them the breathing room they need in order to keep them going.
Detractors will say you’re only including as pro-life issues those related to abortion, euthanasia, contraception and so forth, but what about immigration and other social-justice issues? What do you say to them and their criticisms of Trump on those policy areas?
When I was asked to serve on the Catholic advisory group, I had to give serious thought and prayer, as there were several candidates still around, and I was trying to figure out where my allegiance should be. And the more I thought about it — and it didn’t take me very long — all I had to think about were two people with whom I had the honor to work, who were among the most influential in my life, who, ironically or providentially, became canonized saints in my lifetime. One was Mother Teresa, and the other John Paul II. I was basically asking in my prayer life what they would say about these choices.
I recalled very vividly that Mother Teresa, with whom I worked in Yemen and Rome, came to the Catholic Prayer Breakfast and denounced abortion. But she didn’t just denounce abortion. She said that America would never be America and really be open to life as it had been in the past if it continued down this road of abortion. And if you read her statement, it’s a beautiful statement: It calls Americans to really be American. It calls Americans to recognize their absolute responsibility for life because they’ve been given so much.
And so she gave this beautiful speech, and she got a 10-minute standing ovation — but, interestingly and sadly, President Clinton and Hillary and Vice President Gore and Tipper were in the first row of the audience; and, alone, amongst those present, they sat. They did not get up. They did not recognize what everyone else recognized: that a saint was trying to teach something about American life and how to protect it. So that was the first thing.
The second was St. John Paul II, whom I worked for as I was a diplomat for the Holy See for 14 years. I had opportunities to speak to him and witness how strong he was any time there was any question about whether we should defend life — he was there and gave every ounce of his effort to making sure that the right to life was defended, to the extent that in 1988 the U.S. Catholic bishops came out with a beautiful teaching document before the elections entitled, “Defending the Gospel of Life.” In it, it talks about how important all the other aspects are of humanitarian action, [but] if you don’t have the right to life as the basic right, none of the other rights can be enjoyed whatsoever. So if you do not have the right to life, it literally puts at risk everything else.
Regarding the bishops and the Vatican, would you like them to be more vocal in their support of what Trump has done in the pro-life area so far?
I think there’s a misunderstanding about what America is or can be about. I think St. John Paul II got it in terms of his ability to work particularly with Ronald Reagan, and to the extent that they saw there were forces at work that needed to be undone, such as communism … and the culture of death. Like his good friend Mother Teresa, St. John Paul had that particular understanding of what America can accomplish.
America, like in any other country, can have a spate of things it might get wrong, but for that very reason, my hope has always been to try to unite the forces of good between the Holy See and the United States, as they were enjoyed particularly between St. John Paul and Ronald Reagan. Obviously, there were points on which they did not agree, and so they focused on the things that they agreed upon, prioritized those actions, and gave the world a strong feeling of hope.
In what areas in particular?
Some of the building blocks for Pope Francis and President Trump are a) life, and then b) religious liberty and c) human trafficking. I hope in the mix of all of that we can also sort out the migration issues, which are obviously evolving.
Do you ever foresee an overturning of Roe v. Wade during this administration?
Time will tell what happens to the Supreme Court. It’s not within the president's power to do it, as I understand it, but you would not have to have a constitutional amendment to overturn it, as Roe v. Wade is counterconstitutional.
What would you ask the faithful to do to help bring this administration and the Church closer together?
I would just ask everyone to devote an enormous amount of prayer to both the president and the Pope, that they can find ways of ameliorating the world together and that they end up working together on a whole variety of things, including anything from North Korea to Venezuela to pro-life, pro-family and human trafficking.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.