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Catholic Bishops And Immigration

James Fulford

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 bipartisan.) The parts about crime and the poor are so socialistic that Nat Hentoff likes them.

Neuhaus says that

Ten of the eighty-four positions taken are in the category of migration 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 of  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.)

And again:

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.

Mere Christianity (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 capital punishment. 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 can swim.)

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 leadership) cowardice.

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

 

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