President Donald Trump is seen during the daily briefing of the Task Force on the Coronavirus Outbreak at the White House in Washington on April 24, 2020 (CNS Photo / Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – President Donald Trump said he will continue to support issues vital to the Catholic Church, particularly abortion, religious freedom and school choice, during a conference call with Catholic leaders and educators.

He also said he would seek federal financial support for Catholic schools as they grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

Many schools across the country have suffered severe financial strain since the pandemic first appeared in the United States in February, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

Crux, an online Catholic news organization, reported on the April 26 appeal after obtaining a recording of the event.

Trump described himself as the “best (president) in the history of the Catholic Church” to 600 Catholic leaders and educators, according to the report.

Throughout the call, Trump repeatedly went back to his support for efforts to end abortion and school choice while arguing that a Democratic presidency could lead to opposition within the government to these Catholic concerns.

Among the guests were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the Bishops Committee on Catholic Education.

The educators identified as being on the call were Paul Escala and Elias Moo, superintendents of Catholic education in the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and Denver, respectively.

The Archdiocese of Denver emailed a statement from Moo on April 28 in which he said he explained to the president the Colorado Catholic Schools Department and the challenges Catholic education faces as a result of the pandemic.

“I spoke to the President about the long history of Catholic education in our country and how our country needs schools that provide an educational experience that shapes the child as a whole and values ​​the primacy of parents. and the soul of the human person, ”Moo mentioned. “I also told him about the phenomenal work our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Denver do in serving more than 12,000 students from diverse backgrounds, cultures, countries of origin and economic situations, at three quarters of the cost per student of our. public. -school counterparts.

He also said it was important for the church “to engage with public officials to discuss issues that are central to our Catholic faith and mission”, regardless of “affiliation or preference. policy ”of an individual.

None of the other participants could be reached for comment. However, one participant, Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the USCCB’s Catholic Education Secretariat, declined to comment in an email to Catholic News Service, saying the call was “off the record.”

As he discussed his support for Catholic issues, Trump noted that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson were also on call.

Trump repeatedly stressed to attendees his commitment to the pro-life cause, saying he was “on a level that no other president has seen before, according to everyone.”

In January, Trump became the first sitting president to address the annual March for Life in Washington, which protests the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.

The president also reiterated his support for the Mexico City policy, which bans federal funding for non-governmental organizations that perform abortion and opposes the Johnson Amendment, which bans tax-exempt organizations, including churches. , to support or oppose political candidates.

The president’s remarks lasted about 15 minutes before he answered questions.

The topic of federal support to support Catholic schools was the main concern expressed by the participants. The need is particularly acute in the context of the pandemic, although some schools have secured repayable loans for small business administration under the new paycheck protection program.

The loans are primarily intended for entities with fewer than 500 employees, including nonprofits such as schools and churches, so that they can keep their staff employed for up to eight weeks. Administrators of Catholic schools nationwide, however, face major questions as they prepare for the new school year, due to the potential loss of tuition fees for families whose employees have been laid off and the high cost of converting in-person courses to e-learning.

Cardinal Dolan was the first participant to speak, according to Crux’s account. He praised the support of DeVos, Carson and Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior adviser, calling them “cherished allies in our passion for our beloved schools.”

He pointed out to Trump that the outlook for schools had never “looked bleaker, but perhaps they never looked so bright given your administration’s strong commitment to our schools. We have more. than ever need you.

In response, Trump turned to his re-election campaign, claiming the “situation ahead on November 3, which has never been more important for the church.”

He then said Democrats “want abortion.”

“We defended that very well in our last race with Hillary Clinton because she had it until the moment of birth,” he said. “We’ve probably helped the pro-life (effort) more than anything you can imagine.

“I hope everyone will vote and do what they have to do,” he said in reference to the November election, warning that if he is beaten, “you are going to have a very Catholic Church. different”.

Cardinal O’Malley continued the series of questions related to schools, urging the president to support tuition assistance for families to enable them to send their children to Catholic schools.

“We need it now,” he said. “It needs to be done in a quick way that helps them pay for school fees.”

Crux reported that Escala and Moo have urged the president to pursue policies that support school choice.