Leaked Trump Audio Tape Splinters Catholic Support

The candidate's comments from 2005 have led some Catholics to withdraw their support, while others are staying the course.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump (photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Recently released audio of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women in 2005 has created a split in his Catholic supporters — with some continuing to back him and others pulling away from the Republican Party nominee.

Joseph Cella, Catholic liaison to the Trump campaign and founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, called the comments “repulsive and undignified” and said they “cannot be condoned or defended.”

He reiterated his support for Trump, however.

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence remain the only candidates in this election who will bring jobs back home where they belong, keep our families and communities safe, defend the right to life, the right to fully and freely exercise our religious freedom, and other issues of great importance to Catholics — and most importantly, they will appoint Supreme Court justices who will do the same for future generations,” he stated.

Trump’s candidacy for the White House came under fire over the weekend, after comments he made in 2005 surfaced in the media. Trump had bragged to the television program Access Hollywood about trying to grope, kiss and seduce women, claiming that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

That report follows other reports from earlier in the campaign of Trump’s past statements about women that were degrading, from lewd talk about their bodies to saying which ones he would or wouldn’t have sex with.

In Sunday night’s presidential debate in St. Louis, Trump was asked about the remarks by moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN.

“You called what you said ‘locker-room banter.’ You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault,” Cooper told Trump. “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”

“No, I didn’t say that at all,” Trump responded, reiterating that “this was locker-room talk,” and “I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly, I’m not proud of it.”

He then shifted focus to global war and terrorism, saying, “I will take care of ISIS, and we should get onto much more important things and much bigger things.”

Cooper pressed him on whether or not he had admitted to kissing and groping women “without consent.” Trump replied, “I have tremendous respect for women. And women have respect for me,” before finally saying that he had not committed those offenses.

On Saturday, CatholicVote.org released a statement calling the remarks “disgusting and simply indefensible.” While the group acknowledged having “defended” some of Trump’s policy proposals like “on school choice and parental leave, his pledges on judicial nominations, and his recent commitment to defend and protect religious liberty,” the group has never officially endorsed his candidacy.

Previously, it has stated that “although we remain unsure of Trump’s dedication to Catholic values and have not officially endorsed him for president, we do believe Catholics can in good conscience vote for Donald Trump.”

On Saturday, however, the political action organization struck a different tone.  

“In our opinion, the viability of Donald Trump’s candidacy is now in question,” the group’s statement read. “Furthermore, the good many hoped to achieve, in spite of Trump’s many well-known flaws, is also now in doubt. If Donald Trump is unwilling to step aside, the Republican National Committee must act soon out of basic decency and self-preservation.”

Other Catholic leaders who have endorsed Trump either expressed hesitation over continuing to support him or stopped publicly supporting him over the weekend.

R.R. Reno, the editor of the journal First Things, recently endorsed Trump along with several other writers, but explained to The Washington Post over the weekend that he could not finish writing an op-ed endorsing Trump after the news broke of his 2005 comments.

“It’s not just that I’m jammed up with deadlines, but Trump has hit new moral lows (who thought that possible???) and I’m beginning to regret signaling any public support,” he said in an email to the Post.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, has insisted that pro-lifers should support Trump for his pro-life policy proposals and promise to nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices.

However, the group has issued no public statement on Trump’s comments and did not respond on Monday when CNA requested comment.

A growing list of GOP officials have called for Trump’s resignation. The nominee has said that he will not step down.

Other Catholics stood by the candidate, insisting that he remains the best option.

Father Frank Pavone, speaking personally and not as president of Priests for Life, insisted that “the lewd comments, made over a decade ago and for which Mr. Trump has apologized, and which I, like everyone else, find repulsive, do not in the least change my intentions of voting for him, of urging others to do so and of advising his campaign.”

Trump will advance a greater agenda for the common good than will his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Father Pavone continued, and to vote for him is not to endorse all of his private behavior.

“I hope my doctor is virtuous, but when it comes to treating me, whether he has made lewd comments doesn't enter into the equation,” he explained of his support.

And Trump is actually making “reparation” for his comments now, he added.

“What an incredible reparation Mr. Trump is making now for any past faults, by the very fact that he is running as the Republican nominee for president, and is ready to nominate the right kind of judges and sign the right kinds of legislation, which will steer our nation away from so many morally corrupt public policies. A penitent sinner could hardly have a more substantial opportunity to make reparation.”

“It takes a great deal of moral courage, actually, to take the step Mr. Trump is taking by running for public office,” he continued. “He knows his past and knows what will be brought up about it. Yet he is willing to move forward both personally and professionally for the good of the country.”

Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisonsin, a Catholic member of Congress who is on Trump’s Catholic advisory board, stated his disgust for the comments, but still expressed his support for Trump’s candidacy over Clinton’s.

“I'm a father of five daughters. I am disgusted by the comments,” he told television news channel WSAW. However, he added, “I didn't agree to support him because of what he's done in his personal life,” but, rather, “because I agree with his policies more than Hillary Clinton's policies.”