WASHINGTON, DC (CNA) - Recently released audio of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women in 2005 has created a split in his Catholic supporters - with some continuing to back him and others pulling away from the GOP nominee.
Joseph Cella, Catholic liaison to the Trump campaign and founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, called the comments "repulsive and undignified" and said they "cannot be condoned or defended."
He reiterated his support for Trump, however.
"Donald Trump and Mike Pence remain the only candidates in this election who will bring jobs back home where they belong, keep our families and communities safe, defend the right to life, the right to fully and freely exercise our religious freedom, and other issues of great importance to Catholics - and most importantly, they will appoint Supreme Court justices who will do the same for future generations," he stated.
Donald Trump's candidacy for the White House came under fire over the weekend after comments he made in 2005 surfaced in the media. Trump had bragged to "Access Hollywood" about trying to grope, kiss, and seduce women, claiming that "when you're a star, they let you do it."
That report follows other reports from earlier in the campaign of Trump's past statements about women that were degrading, from lewd talk about their bodies to saying which ones he would or wouldn't have sex with.
On Sunday night's presidential debate in St. Louis, Trump was asked about the remarks by moderator Anderson Cooper.
"You called what you said 'locker room banter'. You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault," Cooper told Trump. "You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?"
"No, I didn't say that at all," Trump responded, reiterating that "this was locker room talk" and that "I'm not proud of it. I apologize to my family, I apologize to the American people. Certainly, I'm not proud of it."
He then shifted focus to global war and terrorism, saying that "I will take care of ISIS, and we should get onto much more important things, and much bigger things."
Cooper pressed him on whether or not he had admitted to kissing and groping women "without consent." Trump replied that "I have tremendous respect for women. And women have respect for me" before finally saying that he had not committed those offenses.
On Saturday, CatholicVote.org had released a statement calling the remarks "disgusting and simply indefensible." While they acknowledged having "defended" some of Trump's policy proposals like "on school choice and parental leave, his pledges on judicial nominations, and his recent commitment to defend and protect religious liberty," the group has never officially endorsed his candidacy. They have said instead that "although we remain unsure of Trump's dedication to Catholic values and have not officially endorsed him for President, we do believe Catholics can in good conscience vote for Donald Trump."
On Saturday, however, the group struck a different tone.
"In our opinion, the viability of Donald Trump's candidacy is now in question," they stated. "Furthermore, the good many hoped to achieve, in spite of Trump's many well-known flaws, is also now in doubt. If Donald Trump is unwilling to step aside, the Republican National Committee must act soon out of basic decency and self-preservation."
Other Christian leaders who have endorsed Trump either expressed hesitation over continuing to support him, or stopped publicly supporting him over the weekend.
Prominent Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem withdrew his support for Trump's candidacy and asked Trump to drop out of the race.
"His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God's command, 'You shall not commit adultery'," he stated. "God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects."
R.R. Reno, the editor of the journal First Things and a Catholic, recently endorsed Trump along with several other writers, but explained to the Washington Post over the weekend that he could not finish writing an op-ed endorsing Trump after the news broke of his 2005 comments.
"It's not just that I'm jammed up with deadlines, but Trump has hit new moral lows (who thought that possible???) and I'm beginning to regret signaling any public support," he said in an email to the Post.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, has insisted that pro-lifers should support Trump for his pro-life policy proposals and promise to nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices.
However, the group has issued no public statement on Trump's comments, and did not respond on Monday when CNA requested comment.
Some Catholics stood by the candidate, insisting that he remained the best option.
Father Frank Pavone, speaking personally and not as president of Priests for Life, insisted that "the lewd comments, made over a decade ago and for which Mr. Trump has apologized, and which I, like everyone else, find repulsive, do not in the least change my intentions of voting for him, of urging others to do so, and of advising his campaign."
Trump will advance a greater agenda for the common good than will his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Father Pavone continued, and to vote for him is not to endorse all of his private behavior.
"I hope my doctor is virtuous, but when it comes to treating me, whether he has made lewd comments doesn't enter into the equation," he explained his support.
And Trump is actually making "reparation" for his comments now, he added.
"What an incredible reparation Mr. Trump is making now for any past faults by the very fact that he is running as the Republican nominee for President, and is ready to nominate the right kind of judges and sign the right kinds of legislation, which will steer our nation away from so many morally corrupt public policies. A penitent sinner could hardly have a more substantial opportunity to make reparation."
"It takes a great deal of moral courage, actually, to take the step Mr. Trump is taking by running for public office," he continued. "He knows his past and knows what will be brought up about it. Yet he is willing to move forward both personally and professionally for the good of the country."
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.), a Catholic member of Congress who is on Trump's Catholic advisory board, stated his disgust for the comments, but still expressed his support for Trump's candidacy over Clinton's.
"I'm a father of five daughters. I am disgusted by the comments" he told WSAW. However, he added, "I didn't agree to support him because of what he's done in his personal life" bur rather "because I agree with his policies more than Hillary Clinton's policies."
A growing list of GOP officials have called for Trump's resignation. The nominee has said that he will not step down.
Also mentioned in Sunday's debate were issues of religious freedom, abortion, and the nomination of Supreme Court justices.
When asked about Trump's proposed ban on Muslim refugees, Clinton responded that "we are a country founded on religious freedom and liberty. How do we do what he has advocated without causing great distress within our own country? Are we going to have religious tests when people fly into our own country?"
Clinton herself has come under fire for her support of measures that critics say would choke freedom of religion, including the HHS mandate - which requires employers to fund and facilitate contraception, even if they have religious objections - and requirements that vendors cater to same-sex wedding ceremonies.
On the question of which Supreme Court justice she would nominate to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Clinton insisted that the justice should be support abortion and same-sex marriage.
"I want a Supreme Court that will stick with Roe v Wade and a woman's right to choose, and I want a Supreme Court that will stick with marriage equality," she said.
"Now Donald has put forth the names of some people that he would consider. And among the ones that he has suggested are people who would reverse Roe v. Wade and reverse marriage equality. I think that would be a terrible mistake," she added.
Trump, for his part, said that he would nominate "people that will respect the Constitution of the United States" and "also the Second Amendment." He made no specific mention of marriage or life issues, but pointed to Scalia as a model justice.