By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK – President Donald Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff says the principles of faith are “alive and well and well-respected” within the White House and “are driving many of our policies.”
In his address to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday, Congressman Mick Mulvaney said people of all denominations and faiths in the administration are “very vocal” and are encouraged to “work it into our policies.”
The presence of faith “makes us a better administration and makes us a better country,” Mulvaney told the crowd of 1,400 people at the 15th annual gathering in the nation’s capital.
Mulvaney was followed on the dais by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona, Abby Johnson, formerly a Planned Parenthood employee who has become a pro-life champion, and Curtis Martin, CEO and founder of FOCUS, a missionary organization on nearly 200 college campuses across the United States.
The almost two-hour gathering brought about repeated calls for greater attention to the persecution of Christians at home and abroad, along with the defense of traditional marriage and greater protections for the unborn. The event is billed as a nonpartisan gathering, but has long been identified with its conservative headliners.
Among the honored guests were the parents of 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School who found himself in the center of a national controversy in January after attending the March for Life in Washington where his encounter with an indigenous man while wearing a Make America Great Again hat sparked a national controversy over free speech, racism, religious freedom, and media bias.
Mulvaney, the first Catholic congressman from South Carolina, spoke of his behind-closed-doors meeting in the Oval Office. While he said he reluctantly shares such experiences, he spoke of the president’s regular efforts to challenge world leaders on the issue of religious freedom, and in particular, anti-Christian persecution.
He said over the past two and a half years, the president has told leaders “you’re not doing enough to take care of the Christians in your country,” or conversely used the occasion to thank particular leaders for their efforts in helping Christians within their country.
“I won’t lie to you, that that’s pretty powerful stuff,” Mulvaney said of the president’s engagement on the issue.
Mulvaney said that the manner in which the president speaks about faith “probably hasn’t been articulated in the Oval Office in way too long.”
He also recounted the president’s impromptu efforts to add lines into his State of the Union address earlier this year to call out Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s support of late term abortion, which was met with whistles and applause from the audience.
Bishop Olmsted, who serves on the pro-life committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), followed Mulvaney and recalled that he was ordained a priest in 1973, the same year the Supreme Court legalized abortion.
“Christ has been summoning me to lift up the truth proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council that abortion is an unspeakable crime,” he said. Bishop Olmsted said that the “shadow” of the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade has led to his continued work to advocate for “restored protection in law for the most vulnerable among us.”
He also condemned what he described as a “further weakening” of the country due to “gender ideology.” The bishop applauded those on hand who continue to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage “despite the real risk of persecution for doing so,” and decried the effects of the sexual revolution, including the rejection of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical wherein he upheld the Church’s ban on artificial birth control.
Bishop Olmsted also spoke directly to the laity, acknowledging the latest wave of the clergy abuse crisis, saying they are “justly angered at the revelations of so much sin and failures of leadership” by priests and bishops.
Johnson followed Bishop Olmsted, where she was greeted with a standing ovation for her work for the pro-life cause. Her story of conversion was recently chronicled in the film Unplanned.
She described firsthand testimonials of women who have told her they cancelled their abortion appointments and changed their mind on the issue after seeing the film.
“We must be about conversion,” she told the crowd – adding that they must be courageous in their defense of their faith.
“The people on the other side of these issues are not in the least bit concerned about offending you,” she said. “Be proud of your faith. Be bold in your faith.”
Martin concluded the event, where he said that he believes it’s helpful to look at patterns in “salvation history” to better understand the times in which Catholics are living.
“I believe as we stand here in the nation’s capital…torn in many ways…We have to own the sins of our culture,” he said.
“We as a people have not been faithful to Christ, but the answer is not for us to start trying harder,” he continued. “We need to fall farther to our knees to beg God to do the work. He is the only one that can bring renewal to our nation.”