Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump this week revealed the 34 members of a Catholic advisory group who will provide additional support to his campaign on issues and policies important to Catholics and other people of faith in America.

A month after The Washington Post declared the GOP candidate to be trailing by a huge margin among American Catholics, the Trump Campaign unveiled the Catholic Advisory Group, whose members range from conservative Catholic politicians, leaders of pro-life/anti-abortion groups, leaders of national Catholic groups, and former ambassadors to the Holy See, including many well known Irish American Catholics.

The GOP cites the advisory group as a key element of the Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee, which they hope will convince Catholics and other Christians that Trump sides with them on issues important to them.

They issues are: religious liberty, pro-life, judicial nominations, education, heathcare, jobs and taxation, and safety and security. Joseph Cella, Founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, will serve as the Catholic Liaison for the members and the campaign.

According to a poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute in late August, Clinton is leading among Catholics by 23 points (55 – 32) four years after Mitt Romney lost the group’s vote by just two per cent, 50 percent to 48 percent.

An earlier Washington Post-ABC News poll had indicated things were even worse for Trump, who was supported by only 34 percent of Catholic voters at the time compared with Clinton’s 61 percent. Republicans won the Catholic vote in five of the last 11 presidential elections.

Read more: Catholics reject Donald Trump in huge numbers – the Pope Francis effect?

Perhaps due to his run-in with Pope Francis in 2015 (the Holy See condemned the plan to build a wall along the Mexican border as un-Christian), or his less than clear views on abortion, Catholic Americans have not seemed inclined to support Trump.

The Catholic Advisory Group, however, includes several high-profile Catholic supporters including former US Senator and presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum, former Chief Secretary and Attache at the US Embassy in Dublin, Patrick Walsh, and President of the Susan B. Anthony List (a pro-life organization), Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“On the issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics, Donald Trump will fight for Catholics whereas Hillary Clinton is openly hostile to those issue of greatest concern to Catholics and will attack the core teachings of the Catholic Church, and has worked against them as First Lady, as US Senator and as Secretary of State, and would continue to do so if she is elected President,” said Congressman Sean Duffy, also a member of the group.

Donald Trump has consistently attacked Clinton’s faith through the presidential campaign, despite a 2016 Pew Poll finding that 60 percent of people find Trump himself to be “not religious” compared with 43 percent who feel Clinton is not a person of faith. Clinton’s own numbers also jumped this year from 31 percent in 2008 when a further 53 percent believed her to be only somewhat religious.

Clinton, a Methodist, has previously spoken about her religious upbringing, attending Bible School in her youth, teaching Sunday School in Arkansas and raising her daughter Chelsea as a Methodist.

In July, the Clinton campaign named John McCarthy, current Vice President of the Irish American Democrats PAC, as her latest hire to focus on outreach to the Catholic and Irish communities.

Proud to be part of the @realDonaldTrump team #MAGA ---> Santorum Appointed to Catholic Advisory Group - Bloomberg

— Rick Santorum (@RickSantorum) September 23, 2016

Trump's statement on his Catholic advisory group includes no mention of the Pope, whom he called disgraceful

— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) September 22, 2016

Trump claims Clinton will limit religious freedom if she becomes president despite her having voiced her support of right of each individual to practice their faith as they want. In her book “It Takes A Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us” she stated: "We are only children of God, not God. Therefore, we must not attempt to fit God into little boxes, claiming that He supports this or that political position."

On his web site, in a statement aimed at Catholics, Trump says he will “protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.” On abortion Trump says that “public funding of abortion providers is an insult to people of faith at the least, and is an affront to good government and governance, at best. I will work to support the dignity of human life from conception to natural, dignified death.” 

“America is on the wrong track,” states Catholic Advisory Group member Matt Schlapp, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, “as economic opportunities wane and families face a coarsened society where people of faith feel bullied, disrespected and marginalized. We have slipped so far, so fast, at a pace quickened by our failure to uphold the dignity of unborn life.”

This current stance would appear to be at odds with what Trump in a 1999 interview in which he asserted that he was "very pro-choice."

The GOP candidate has since claimed he evolved into his staunchly  pro-life stance in recent years, coming under heat again in March 2016 when he claimed that women should be punished for acquiring a termination in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews. He continued to state that a man should not be punished in the same situation. Trump has since taken back the comments.

According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Study carried out in 2014 by the Pew Research Center, 20.8 percent of US citizens identify as Catholic.

The members of the Catholic Advisory Group are:

  • Sen. Rick Santorum, Former US Senator and presidential candidate
  • Marjorie Dannenfelser, President, Susan B. Anthony List
  • The Honorable Matt Schlapp, Chairman, American Conservative Union
  • Ambassador Francis Rooney, Former US Ambassador to the Holy See
  • Sean Fieler, President, Chiaroscuro Foundation
  • Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life
  • Chris Slattery, Founder & President, Expectant Mother Care
  • Cong. Andrew Harris, US Congressman, Maryland, 1st District
  • Janet Morana, Co-Founder, Silent No More Campaign
  • John Klink, President Emeritus, International Catholic Migration Commission
  • Marjorie Murphy Campbell, Founder & Publisher, New Feminism
  • Deacon Keith Fournier, Chairman, Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance
  • Tony Maas, President & CEO of JTM Food Group
  • Patrick Walsh, Former Chief Secretary and Attache, US Embassy, Dublin, Ireland
  • Matt Smith, President, Catholic Advocate, Board Member, American Conservative Union
  • Austin Ruse, President, Center for Family and Human Rights
  • Richard Viguerie, Chairman, ConservativeHQ
  • Angela Flood, Former Director, Secretariat of Communications, Archdiocese of Washington, DC
  • Lou Murray, New York Life Financial Consultant
  • Lisa Bourne, Journalist, LifeSiteNews
  • Cong. Steve Chabot, US Congressman, Ohio, 1st District
  • Cong. Mike Kelly, US Congressman, Pennsylvania, 3rd District
  • Ed Martin, President, Eagle Forum
  • Chuck Mifsud, President, Catholics for Ohio
  • Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas Governor and former Kansas US Senator
  • Tom Monaghan, Founder, Ave Maria University/Ave Maria School of Law
  • Mark Corallo, Founder, Corallo Media Strategies
  • Jay Shepard, RNC National Committeeman, Vermont
  • Joseph Cella, Founder, National Catholic Prayer Breakfast
  • "The Honorable" Faith Whittlesey, Former US Ambassador to Switzerland and "member of White House senior staff, Reagan Administration"
  • The Honorable R. James Nicholson, Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Ambassador to the Holy See
  • The Honorable Frank Keating, Former Governor of Oklahoma
  • The Honorable Sean Duffy, Congressman, Wisconsin, 7th District
  • Mary Matalin, Former Counselor to the Vice President