The Evangelization Station
Pray for Pope Francis
Scroll down for topics
Catholic Bishops And Immigration
In the February, 2001
issue of First
Things Magazine, Richard Neuhaus deconstructs the
legislative program of the
National Conference of
Catholic Bishops, which he has heard called the
“religious lobby of the Democratic Party." Of course liberals are calling it the
“religious lobby of the Republican Party." (It's officially
parts about crime and the poor are so socialistic that
Nat Hentoff likes
Neuhaus says that
Ten of the
eighty-four positions taken are in the category of
and refugee issues before Congress. Here, too, questions could be raised, but
the fact is that on immigration the U.S. bishops take pretty much the position
The Wall Street Journal,
which, only half tongue in cheek, calls for a constitutional amendment
abolishing national borders. The Catholic Church is the largest, and possibly
the most effective, pro–immigration organization in the country. This has
everything to do with strategic and pastoral planning, reflecting the fact that
Latinos constitute at least a quarter of the more than sixty million Catholics
in the U.S., and some expect they will be half the Catholic population by the
middle of the century. Can moral arguments backed by
Catholic social doctrine
be mustered in support of limiting or even cutting back on immigration?
Certainly. But my impression is that making them is like spitting in the wind.
On this question, the bishops have a long–standing and settled conviction—not
unrelated to the immigrant history of Catholicism in this country—that a
generous immigration policy is good for poor people seeking opportunity, good
for America, and good for the Catholic Church.
Later he says:
(A wrinkle here is that unions could become newly important for the Church if they succeed in organizing large numbers of immigrant workers, but that hasn’t happened yet and, for several reasons, may not happen.)
Meanwhile, the Republican Party has in recent decades become the champion of the Church’s public priorities—the protection of innocent human life, parental choice in education, the defense of marriage, church–state cooperation, and an array of issues under the rubric of religious freedom.
But immigrant Catholics still tend to
vote against Republicans. Even when they vote pro-life, they vote for pro-life
Democrats. There's nothing in Catholic doctrine that says you have to vote
Democrat, and at the policy level, as Neuhaus points out, the Democratic Party
might as well be controlled by the Orange Lodge. Or Bob Jones University.
Years ago C. S. Lewis discussed the
idea that the Church (in his case the Episcopalian Church, but his point is the
same) ought to give political advice:
People say, "The Church ought to give us a lead." That is true if they mean it in the right way, but false if the mean it in the wrong way. By the Church they ought to mean the whole body of practicing Christians. And when they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some Christians -- those who happen to have the right talents -- should be economists and statesmen, and that all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting "Do as you would be done by" into action. If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. But, of course, when they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to put out a political program. That is silly. The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live forever: and we are asking them to do a quite different job for which they have not been trained. The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism and education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters; just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists--not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time.
(Book 3, Chapter 3)
Bishops are supposed to tell us that
murder is wrong, and justifiable homicide is right, but not to fiddle with gun
control, because they don't know good policy from bad policy, the way
they know right from wrong.
The same applies to
Bishops are supposed to be in favor of mercy and prudence; the official
doctrine of the church is one of "Capital
punishment if necessary, but not necessarily capital punishment." But bishops
should not be saying that “advances in modern penal systems enable us to protect
society from violent offenders without the need to resort to capital
punishment”, because “advances in modern penal systems” are not Catholic
doctrine, they’re a figment some idiot criminologist's imagination.
So by C. S. Lewis' rule, a good,
specifically Catholic immigration policy would come from good Catholics like Pat
Buchanan who have actually given it some study.
In fact, even a bad Catholic
immigration policy would be better if it came from bad Catholics like
Geraldo Rivera or Teddy Kennedy, because their policy would be based on genuine
wickedness and malice, rather than unworldly ignorance, and would at least make
some kind of sense. (Geraldo would support the immigration of tall blonde women
with big breasts; Kennedy would insist that they all be registered Democrats who
The Bishops aren’t necessarily being
malicious in their immigration policy. You should never attribute to conspiracy
what can be explained by stupidity, ignorance, or (in the case of the Republican
Think the Bishops aren't acting in
ignorance of the facts? Well, here's Father Neuhaus again:
After the economics pastoral, which pronounced on everything from marginal tax rates to just income distribution, a mischievous journalist called a large number of bishops and reported that most of them did not know what a marginal tax rate is. To put it gently, they did not know what they were talking about.
May 09, 2001