Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Day Melania Trump Became a Real Person

First Lady Melania Trump, just before meeting Pope Francis.
(Photo credit: Gregorio Borgia, AP)
I’ve felt some pity for Melania Trump for some time now. It’s hard not to.

In the Shadow

For one thing, for all the money they make — and it’s not necessarily as much as you’d think — supermodels don’t get much more respect than ordinary models, who rate more respect than fast-food workers but less than nursing assistants. To the average person, being a model requires only three attributes: height, skinniness, and photogenic looks. No one expects you to have a brain, let alone opinions worth listening to; after all, if you had a brain, you’d have pursued some socially useful career, like (fill in the blank), instead of trading on such an ephemeral quality as beauty.

For another thing, Melania’s married to the shamelessly self-promoting Donald Trump. As such, to the public eye, she’s been little more than an accessory to The Donald, a gold-electroplated accouterment. Nobody actually knows the dynamic of their relationship, which has never stopped anyone from treating speculation as fact (“trophy wife!”). Being Trump’s wife has made her a target of spite. Melania recently settled a libel lawsuit with the British tabloid the Daily Mail, who had asserted that at one point she supplemented her modeling income with prostitution. And her delivery of the Lord’s Prayer at a rally in Melbourne, Florida garnered both howls of outrage from secularists and sneers from bigots who made fun of her accented English.

All told, however, most of Melania’s time is spent in the shadow of the lurching, bellowing PR ogre that is Pres. Donald Trump. For the press and for a large proportion of the Trump-hating public, she is little more than a cardboard cutout, or a pretty face posted on a punching bag — the First Bimbo. Even her son Barron gets more positive attention than she does.

Is FLOTUS a Catholic?

Then, at an audience on Wednesday, May 24, Pope Francis blessed her rosary, which apparently had been her mother’s. As Kate Bennett of CNN put it, “That [Melania] even had rosary beads was news.” Some reporters thought the pope gave them to her. But popes don’t ordinarily give rosaries as gifts to people who they don’t know to be Catholic. Then, during a visit to the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, the First Lady spent time in prayer in the chapel, then tweeted about a boy whom she had visited using the hashtags #Blessings and #Faith. Suddenly, the media started wondering: Is Melania Trump a Catholic?

Yes, FLOTUS is a Catholic, the second such in US history. Spokesperson Stephanie Grisham confirmed it on Thursday, May 25. Pontificates Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly, “To say the least, it is interesting that mainstream (or church) journalists have not asked this question before, during the barrage of coverage that … greets someone who becomes First Lady.”

The answer to the question prompts more questions. For instance, we know Melania’s father, Viktor Knavs (pronounced like “Knauss”; Melanija Knavs Germanized her name for professional reasons), did not sponsor her baptism or First Communion because he had to be a Communist Party member to hold his job. What, then, were the circumstances of her religious formation? How and when did she attend Mass? Does she attend Mass regularly? Barron was baptized at the Episcopal church where Donald and Melania married; however, when he makes the move to DC, he’ll attend an Episcopal school where the Catholic kids slightly outnumber the Episcopalians. So is Melania raising Barron Catholic?

The Mystery of Melania Knauss

How much, really, do we know about the woman who was once a little girl growing up in a little town called Sevnica? Before Melania left Slovenia to pursue her career, Slovenia had to carve itself out of Yugoslavia over a course of five tumultuous years. What was it like to come to her majority in those heady times of the “Slovenian Spring”, as the Slovenes found their voice and struggled for their independence? What did Melania do during the Ten-Day War (26 June – 4 July 1991), as the tanks of the Yugoslav People’s Army rolled across her country? Up until then, did she have to hide her faith? Did it pose any challenges for her as a child?

And is there a story connected with the rosary Melania’s mother gave her — the rosary which she wore with her wedding dress and which was recently blessed by Francis?

Do we really know anything about Melania Trump, save for the usual fluff generated by PR flacks for consumption through celebrity gossip magazines and the Fashion section of the New York Times? Univision did some background, sketching a secretive person prone to inflating her accomplishments, but again came up with more questions than answers.

For the first time since Trump’s presidential campaign began, Melania Trump has gained a third dimension; she has become a person in her own right. Or, to put it more brutally truthful, we finally recognized the third dimension that had been there all along. It’s a third dimension packed with mystery, full of stories she hasn’t told (and may not be willing to tell). But it’s there, waiting for enterprising journalists to explore it.

A Real Catholic™ or a CINO?

Of course, haters gonna hate, and those who hate Pres. Trump are already busily engaged in finding reasons to declare her a CINO (“Catholic In Name Only”). “Melania Trump is not Catholic,” spluttered “Carol” on The American Catholic’s combox. “… So she said the *Our Father*! When have we seen her go to Mass on Sunday? Is he [sic] son baptized Catholic? She was married in a Palm Beach Church. I am not questioning her devotion to Our Lady — or her love of God. Please do not say she is a Catholic, or worse yet — a *practicing* Catholic!!!! This is a disgrace.” Another commenter suggested tongue-in-cheek (I think) that Melania be compelled to present her baptismal certificate just as Republicans demanded Fmr. Pres. Obama’s birth certificate. And this is The American Catholic, a blog that looks at doctrine through red-colored glasses!

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it’s neither our job nor our right to kick “fake Catholics” to the curb. Since we know very little of what goes on within the Trump marriage, we don’t know what limitations it imposes on Melania’s ability to practice the faith. But no matter how much “Carol” and like-minded souls may fuss, so long as Melania was validly baptized and confirmed in the Latin-rite Church, it isn’t heretical to call her a Catholic. The definitions of heresy, schism, and apostasy — the only three sins that, according to Ven. Pius XII, separate one from the Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis § 23) — are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2089 and the Code of Canon Law § 751. Marrying a divorcé and failing to show up regularly for Mass may be grave sins, but they don’t qualify as either heresy or schism or apostasy.

The Dignity of Being Real People

In any event, I hope that this little revelation, as minor as it may seem to some, may be the catalyst which gets the MSM drilling into the Melania Trump story. What the drill reveals may not be pretty, if the Univision reportage is reliable. Nevertheless, we owe her, as we owe all celebrities, the dignity of being real, three-dimensional people. Even fashion models are children of God, created in His image (cf. Genesis 1:27) and thus endowed with a natural dignity incalculable by merely human measures.

And if her Catholicism is imperfect, that’s about par for the course. We call the Church a “hospital for sinners”; but we need to remember that hospitals don’t cure the sick by kicking them out. The only Christian church without sinners is an empty church. Or, as the joke goes, the Catholic Church is not full of hypocrites … there’s always room for more.