Friday, 2 October 2020

Donald Trump accuses Democrats of bias against Catholics at Al Smith charity dinner as Joe Biden talked about how being Catholic 'helped me through the darkness'

 President Donald Trump used a speech to a Catholic charity group on Thursday night to accuse Democrats of bias against that faith while Joe Biden used his to talk about how his Catholicism helped him get through 'darkness.'

The two presidential contenders sent videotaped remarks after the 75th annual Al Smith dinner that benefits Catholic charities became a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The evening is traditionally a time for both sides of the political aisle to come together in congeniality and humor. 

But Trump, as he did when last addressed the dinner four years ago, made it about politics, using his time to attack Democrats on faith issues. He invoked the name of Al Smith, the Democratic politician who lost the presidency because of questions about his Catholic faith, to claim Democrats are anti-Catholic.

'The great Al Smith, the original happy warrior, that's what he was. He was a happy warrior, I know it well. I consider myself to be a happy warrior, but it's not so easy at these times. But he was a happy warrior of American politics. He spent his life fighting for hardworking Americans and battling the anti Catholic prejudice that you see even today coming out of the Democratic Party,' Trump said in remarks given in the White House's Diplomatic Room.

He also claimed that anti-Catholic bigotry 'predominates in the Democratic Party and we must do something immediately about it, like, a Republican win. And let's make it a really big one.'

In contrast, his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, stayed focused on matters of faith. Biden would be the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy if elected in November.

Biden's speech didn't touch Trump at all - but instead talked about his personal relationship with the church - and with Pope Francis, who turned down a meeting earlier this week with Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

'I know for me my Catholic faith has helped me through the darkness, as I have had to bury pieces of my soul deep in the earth,' Biden said, a clear acknowledgment to the losses of his first wife, baby daughter and adult son, Beau.

President Donald Trump used a speech to Catholic charities to accuse Democrats of bias against that faith

President Donald Trump used a speech to Catholic charities to accuse Democrats of bias against that faith

Biden speaks on faith and hope for America at Al Smith dinner
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Joe Biden used his speech to talk about how his catholicism helped him get through 'darkness'

Joe Biden used his speech to talk about how his catholicism helped him get through 'darkness'

Trump claims 'end of pandemic in sight' at Al Smith dinner
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In the address he pre-taped earlier Thursday from Wilmington's Queen theater, Biden talked about his first meeting with Pope Francis during the Pope's 2013 inauguration at the Vatican.

'When I greeted him he said, "Mr. Vice President you're always welcome here,"' the former vice president recalled. 'He was really sending a message to the world to put out a welcome sign in the front door of our church.'

Biden also mentioned Pope Francis' trip to the White House in 2015, saying that like in 2013, it gave him the sense of 'hope and possibility together.'

'And for me it came at a very personal moment, a very tough time in the life of my family. Our son Beau had just died a few months earlier,' Biden said. 'Pope Francis took the time to meet with my entire family to help us see the light through the darkness.'

He said that his friendship with Pope Francis was proof that 'anything is possible' in the U.S.

'I live in an amazing country, we all live in an amazing country,' Biden said. 'Where an Irish-Catholic kid like me from Scranton, Pennsylvania would one day befriend a Jesuit Pope.'

'But that's who we are as a country,' the Democratic nominee added.

The candidates spoke back-to-back with Trump's speech airing after Biden's. 

After they spoke Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and host of the evening, made a joke about their demeanor compared to Tuesday night, when the men met in a chaotic presidential debate where they talked over one another and Trump interrupted Biden repeatedly. 

And he referenced Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should Biden win in November. 

'Am I mistaken or did we just see a rather peaceful transition, a transition to the microphones and it wasn't so bad, was it Mr. President, he said. 'I also dare remind them that Al Smith was a happy warrior, but he was never a sore loser.'

This year's dinner was dedicated to the essential workers who kept New York City running and cared for the sick during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump attacks Democrats on religion during his Al Smith speech
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Trump praised the Catholic community for its work during the coronavirus pandemic and blamed China for the virus that has killed more than 207,000 Americans.

'Sadly, our country in the entire world had been struck with a once in a lifetime global pandemic. China's shouldn't have let it happen, but it did,' he said.    

He thanked fire fighters and police officers for their work during their pandemic – and noted he had their endorsement as he ran for a second term.

'I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years of the history of our country,' he said.

He also touted his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Barrett is a Catholic and Trump has warned Democrats not to make her faith an issue during the confirmation process.  

'As President, one of my top priorities is to defend religious liberty and the cherished role of faith and faith-based organizations in our national life,' he said. 'To protect your God-given rights, I was recently honored to nominate one of our most brilliant legal minds, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to the United States Supreme Court.'

And he bragged that 'few institutions in history have done more for New York, more for America, or more for people of the world than the Catholic Church.'

Biden says his Catholic faith helped him 'through the dark times'
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Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, opened the dinner with a prayer and a few jokes

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, opened the dinner with a prayer and a few jokes

Dinner is named after Al Smith, the Democratic politician who lost the presidency because of questions about his Catholic faith

Dinner is named after Al Smith, the Democratic politician who lost the presidency because of questions about his Catholic faith

Dolan opened the dinner with a prayer and thanked the two presidential candidates for participating in the unusual year. 

'We're honored to have Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump with us. I want to thank them both for keeping alive the six decade tradition that both candidates would attend the Al Smith dinner, and for standing with us in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of our community, our children,' he said.

'This year, after all, not, not only have we had our nasal cavities tested our faith has as well,' he added.

He noted that even though people are socially distanced, in some ways the pandemic has brought us closer together.

'In so many ways the distance has brought us closer, closer together to one another to our families, friends, and to the Lord. And for that I thank God,' he said.

The dinner comes after Pope Francis refused to meet with Pompeo amid tensions between the administration and the Catholic church over the Vatican's plans to renew an agreement with the Chinese government on Church operations in that country.   

Pompeo was on a two-day trip to Rome where he sat down the Apostolic Palace with his Vatican counterpart, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. 

Pope Francis declined to meet with Pompeo to avoid any suggestion of political favoritism ahead of the American election, Vatican officials said.

The pope 'clearly said that he does not receive political figures ahead of the elections,' Parolin told reporters. 

Before his visit Pompeo wrote an essay for a conservative magazine and tweeted a link. In it, he suggested the church had hurt its moral authority by working with Chinese officials. 

'The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal,' the secretary of state wrote. 

Parolin said Pompeo's essay caused 'surprise' at the Vatican. 

'We had a constructive discussion,' Pompeo said after the meeting, 'We have a shared objective. The Chinese Communist Party is behaving in ways that are reminiscent of what´s only happened in centuries past in terms of human rights violations. We´ve watched them oppress not only Muslim Uighurs but Christians, Catholics, Falun Gong, people of all faiths.

'I know that the Catholic Church, the Vatican, the Holy See all care about these issues deeply,' Pompeo told Fox News. 'We´ve urged them to take a stronger view, to express their moral witness against these depredations that are taking place there in China.'

He shrugged off the Pope not meeting with him and suggested it was a scheduling conflict. 

'Oh, he’s a busy man. We scheduled this a little bit late. He doesn’t always meet with foreign ministers too,' Pompeo said.  


President Trump, in his remarks, will tout his nomination of the Catholic Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court

President Trump, in his remarks, will tout his nomination of the Catholic Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court

Trump's remarks come amid tension with his administration and the Vatican. Above, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich meet with Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Trump's remarks come amid tension with his administration and the Vatican. Above, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich meet with Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin 

Pope Francis, meeting with Germany's Armin Laschet, declined to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Rome

Pope Francis, meeting with Germany's Armin Laschet, declined to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Rome

The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, commonly known as the Al Smith Dinner, is an annual white tie dinner to raise funds for Catholic charities supporting children of various needs in the Archdiocese of New York.

Held on the third Thursday of October and named after Al Smith, who was Governor of New York four times and the first Catholic nominated as the Democratic candidate for the United States in the 1928 presidential election.

Mary Callahan Erdoes, J.P. Morgan Asset & Wealth Management's CEO and chair of the dinner, told attendees that the country had become more tolerant of religion in the decades following Smith's historic 1928 presidential run.

'A century ago though, this country had a very different tone,' she said. 'At that time he was New York's beloved governor - four terms in fact - but in 1928 the rest of the country had backlash against his Roman Catholic faith.'

'It was palpable,' she continued.

Smith's Catholicism, she argued, killed his electoral fortunes. And she noted Catholics have been victims of 'fake news' - one of President Trump' s favorite phrases. 

'Many warned that the election might mean the Pope might run the White House. They had crazy fabricated stories that the Holland Tunnel was being built as a secret passageway to bring the Pope from Rome,' she said. 'Fake news way back then - but enough fake news to prevent him from winning.'

The dinner attracts a group of A-list Americans and it's traditional for the two presidential candidates to share its stage before the November election.

This year's dinner originated from multiple locations, with Cardinal Dolan presiding from the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in Manhattan and opera singer Nadine Sierra performing the National Anthem from St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The evening is meant to be light hearted with the political candidates poking gentle fun at themselves in each other.

Trump flaunted that in 2016 when he made several attacks on his then rival Hillary Clinton, who was seated two seats away from him on the dais.  He called Clinton 'corrupt' and accusing her of 'pretending not to hate Catholics.'

Erdoes described the atmosphere between Trump and Clinton at the 2016 dinner as 'the iciest place on the planet.'  

This year's dinner showed a video of past ones, highlighting the presidential contenders who have addressed the group, including George W. Bush, Al Gore, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Trump.

Notably the excerpt played from the president was not his famous slamming of Clinton, but his praise for the group. 

'One thing we can all agree on is the need to support the great work,' Trump said of the Catholic charities group in 2016. 'Millions of dollars have been raised to support disadvantaged children.'

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