Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, lashed out at leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States who condemned the president's recent decision to phase out an Obama-era program that has allowed nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to gain temporary legal status.
Bannon, who is Catholic, accused the church of wanting a steady flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country to fill its church pews and make money.
“Unable to really to come to grips with the problems in the Church, they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches,” Bannon said in an interview with Charlie Rose that will air on "60 Minutes” on CBS on Sunday. “It's obvious on the face of it.”
Bannon added: “They have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”
Rose cut Bannon off and said: “That's a tough thing to say about your church.”
“As much as I respect Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine,” Bannon responded. “This is not doctrine at all. I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine. This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they're just another guy with an opinion.”
Following the announcement that the Trump administration would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the decision “reprehensible” in a strongly worded statement. About 1 in 4 U.S. Catholics are foreign-born, and 34 percent of all Catholics are Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation,” they wrote. “This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”
Several of Trump's top aides, along with his wife, are Catholic. The president, who identifies as Presbyterian, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in May. The two have not had an easy relationship. In February 2016, the pope condemned Trump’s hard-line immigration agenda and suggested that such stances did not match the values of Christianity.
Trump immediately fired back from the campaign trail, saying it was “disgraceful” for the pope to question his faith and accusing the Mexican government of “using the pope as a pawn” and providing him with inaccurate information. In October 2016, Trump attended a charity roast in New York City that benefits Catholic charities and said in a speech that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was “pretending not to hate Catholics.”
The overall Catholic vote in 2016 was split between Trump and Clinton. Hispanic Catholics overwhelmingly supported Clinton, while Trump won over Catholics who are opposed to abortion above all else and wanted to see a conservative justice named to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.