The head of the Federal Election Commission chastised Catholic bishops during a pair of interviews this week, accusing church hierarchy of “hiding behind” their nonprofit status and declaring that this year’s U.S. election amounts to a “spiritual war” that threatens the country’s “Christian moral principles.”
FEC Chairman James E. “Trey” Trainor III made the remarks during an interview with Church Militant, a controversial conservative Catholic media outlet, and in a separate phone interview with Religion News Service.
Trainor, who is Catholic, was asked by Church Militant founder Michael Voris about a priest who recently published a viral video in which the cleric declares that no Catholic can be a Democrat.
Voris pressed Trainor about news that, in response to the video, a bishop plans to attempt “fraternal correction” of the priest, with the hierarch arguing the priest has inflicted a “wound” upon the church.
“I don’t think a bishop has the right to tell a priest that they can’t come out and speak,” Trainor said.
He suggested the bishops avoid political matters because they, like many faith-based groups that offer social services, receive funds from the federal government.
He described the arrangement as “almost a payoff” by the government to encourage faith groups to stay silent or neutral.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on Trainor’s remarks.
Trainor, a Republican who was nominated to the FEC by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in May 2020, also told Voris that because of a 2017 executive order signed by Trump, churches are free to endorse political candidates.
“Especially with this executive order that President Trump signed, the churches can absolutely engage in that activity,” said Trainor, a lawyer who previously represented the Texas Republican Party and two presidential campaigns.
Just before he was nominated, Trainor went on Twitter to point his followers toward anti-Protestant rhetoric, including promotional material declaring that “Protestantism is poison.”
Trainor also captioned a link to the radio show “Catholicism or nothing.”
As a result of public backlash, Trainor set his Twitter to private and his feed remains locked to the public.