The Papal Election: Can Leftist Bishops Enforce Pro-Immigration Dogma?

The conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor begins today (March 12). As a traditional Catholic and an American patriot, I am mildly hopeful about the liturgical and theological outcome—but, frankly, not optimistic about the implications for the immigration debate.

Just over ten years ago, (January 22, 2003), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] and the bishops of Mexico sent a Pastoral Letter to Catholic parishes throughout the US and Mexico entitled, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. Complete with footnotes and definitions, it amounted to a Treason Lobby vade mecum, a blueprint that, for all its Biblical injunctions, primarily sought the amnesty of untold millions of illegal aliens currently in the US—the majority of whom are Mexican nationals (and nominal Catholics).

As VDARE.com readers are well aware, Amnesty attempts were twice defeated in Congress during the second term of President George W. Bush. But now the Obama Administration has made “comprehensive immigration reform”—the cowardly code word for amnesty—a top priority in its second term. The GOP Establishment is in obvious disarray and appears willing to cave on core issues, including amnesty.

And, as if prompted by the Obama Administration, on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), the USCCB`s Migration and Refugee Services Committee, which is headed by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—himself a Mexican immigrant—launched a postcard campaign calling on Congress to pass bills that

provide a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country; preserve family units as a cornerstone of our national immigration system; provide a legal path for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the U.S.; restore due process protections to (illegal) immigrants, and address the root causes of migration, caused by persecution and economic disparity.

As a Catholic, I can only say sadly that it is all too understandable why critics see the USCCB merely as a wing of the Democratic Party. (Of course, the leaders of many Protestant denominations have taken positions on immigration similar to the Catholic Bishops—and their parishioners have responded in similar ways to their Catholic brethren, by rejecting them.)

Within USCCB, the current President, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of the New York Archdiocese, has become the “go-to guy” in articulating the Church`s position on immigration.

In February, 2012, upon returning from Rome where he had received his red hat as a cardinal, Dolan was quoted by the NY Times in which he said:

[H]e first wanted the church to be more effective locally and nationally in its outreach to immigrants, particularly Latinos, who are no longer in Catholic schools in the numbers they once were.

“The church has been the engine of welcoming people, caring for them and getting them settled as happy, productive citizens who are loyal citizens and loyal Catholics,” he said. “It bothers me that for the first time in American Catholic history, we may not be responding well to the needs of immigrant children in our Catholic schools.”

Cardinal Dolan Sets Agenda for Return to New York, By Sharon Otterman, February 20, 2012

On his own Diocesan blog, Dolan wrote

“Comprehensive immigration reform” is a logical, long-overdue expression of the true “sentiment in our national soul…of welcome and embrace to the immigrant.”[Immigration Reform, April 27th, 2010]

(Appallingly, Dolan is now being mentioned as the next Pope—for example, Cardinal Dolan: pope or pope maker? By Matthew N. Schmalz, Washington Post, March 11, 2013. My prediction: there will not be an American Pope in my lifetime).

Similarly, the (then) Archbishop of Baltimore, Edwin O’Brien, wrote in a diocesan letter in July 2008:

Dare we look at them, in other words, with and through the eyes of Christ for whom no one is illegal, no one alien, and no one a criminal who labors honestly to feed his family?

And Archbishop Gomez, in Our Sunday Visitor, August 28, 2011:

Currently there are an estimated 11 million persons living in our country without proper legal documentation. The vast majority of these persons are working and contributing to our economy and society. But because of their immigration status they are forced to live in the shadows, [emphasis mine—VC] without adequate benefits or protections against discrimination and exploitation.”

In fact, no one in the U.S. government can provide anything more than “guesstimates” as to how many illegals would qualify. One could ask how Archbishop Gomez arrived at the 11 million figure—or how these aliens can be said to “live in the shadows,” when they are willing to carry signs in public announcing their illegal status.

Last November, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) published a decisive rebuttal, by a Catholic priest, of the USCCB`s advocacy of amnesty. Rev. Dominique Peridans insisted that Amnesty was an act of “prudential judgment” and need not be followed by parishioners as Catholic doctrine. (Which would be unlikely under any circumstances—polls show an overwhelming number of Catholics in the pews reject what their bishops seek to achieve. [What Are They Thinking? A Look at Roman Catholic “Doctrine” on Immigration October 2012]

In each of these cases, the Bishops are claiming a religious cover for their political aims—an action that Rev. Peridans notes “…replace(s) the insight of ethics and political philosophy, indeed, common sense.”

Rev. Peridan’s argues that the USCCB does not seem to take seriously the words of Christ: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Further, before Pilate, Christ’s own words, “…my Kingdom is not of this world,” further demonstrates that at the founding of Christianity the idea of human autonomy and responsibility were integral to its core beliefs.

The Kingdom of God,” Rev. Peridans concludes, “is not a global village. If Caesar is mentioned, then Caesar’s legitimate authority must also be recognized, even though it is not carried out well, because Caesar’s community is the sovereign nation.”

And herein lies one of the glaring contradictions, indeed schizophrenic aspects, of the USCCB’s position: do the Bishops assembled really accept the national sovereignty of the U.S., despite repeatedly paying lip service to it?

For example…Para 39 of the Bishop’s original letter of 2003 contains this statement:

The Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its border in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-Given rights. These complement each other.

Maybe—but apparently only if a sovereign nation’s wishes and those of the USCCB coincide. The idea that the power of the sovereign state does not include the power to enforce its laws and deport “persons illegally present,” the euphemism the Conference uses repeatedly to describe illegal aliens, is simply not acceptable

Archbishop Gomez, in the article quoted above, repeats this contradictory stance:

“I do not like to see our American rule of law flouted. And I support just and appropriate penalties that would give undocumented workers a way to make restitution and to legalize their status… My point is simple: We need to find a better way to make immigration policy and enforce it.

By which he means that the enforcement of current laws should be suspended—deportation is not an option.

Some sovereignty.

The other notable defect in the Bishops’ position is what Rev. Peridans describes as “Fideism”—the suppression of philosophical thought and common sense about immigration in favor of vague notions of Christian charity.

Rev. Peridans, trained in traditional Thomistic philosophy, notes that the bishops either do not know or care that “there is no official doctrinal position on immigration”; (emphasis mine). Hence, Rev. Peridans correctly interprets the words of the bishops as “…simply exhortations to generous charitable attitude and action toward immigrants.”

Not binding doctrine, but prudential judgment; nothing more, and nothing less.

But the overarching question is this: why has this departure from the Church’s traditional neutrality on immigration occurred in the first place?

I would suggest that what has changed is the nature of the Church’s hierarchy: it has moved decisively leftward.

At no previous time did the Church’s hierarchy accept, much less, condone the breaking of law by immigrants. But since the ending of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the traditional approach has been replaced by unprecedented immigration enthusiast zeal.

This movement to the Left by the bishops can also be seen in other actions, most recently in the dramatic refusal by Cardinal Dolan to withdraw his invitation to the Al Smith Dinner to the most anti-Catholic, pro-abortion president in our history—despite thousands of requests that he do so.[Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Cardinal Dolan Defends Invitation to Obama for Al Smith Banquet, by Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, August 15, 2012]

As the Obama Administration begins its full-court press to pass an amnesty bill, the USCCB will—despite the recent spat over Obamacare—provide unconditional support, ranging from sermons in the pulpit to parish newsletters.

Those who question this will be advised that they are out of touch with “the New Evangelization”—the strategic decision to abandon the West in favor of a Third World base—and should stop acting and thinking as if they were in the Middle Ages.

To which my response will be: “Do you mean like St. Thomas Aquinas?”

Vincent Chiarello (email him) is a retired Foreign Service Officer whose tours included U.S. embassies in Latin America and Europe. His last, and most memorable, assignment was to the US Embassy to The Holy See. He is a former member of the Board the American National Council for Immigration Reform of northern Virginia (ANCIR). For his VDARE.COM appearances, click here.