Catholics and Immigration: The pulpit is out of touch with the pews…and reality

Published on June 4th, 2010

By Leon Kolankiewicz
May 21, 2010

When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070 into law recently, codifying the novel concept that illegal immigration is – God forbid – illegal, and thus unacceptable in any society based on the rule of law, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese accused Arizonans of acting like Nazis.

One would’ve thought Arizona officials were preparing the ovens and gas chambers, or that detention and deportation equal torture and genocide.

Other Catholic officials have used similarly strident language in denouncing Arizona’s bold attempt to actually enforce our immigration laws rather than smirking at them, as other states, cities, and the Obama administration do.

Coming from an institution in which hundreds of trusted authority figures – ordained priests – have sexually abused thousands of defenseless, trusting children for decades – abuse covered up and even perpetuated by a Church more interested in protecting its reputation than pursuing justice and protecting innocent lives – these denunciations are rich, to put it mildly. These sanctimonious Men of God appear to respect neither the sanctity of our children nor of our nation’s borders.

The Church’s fatuous denunciations of virtually all efforts to control illegal immigration are nothing new. For decades, at least since immigration rates began to skyrocket in the 1970s, Catholic clergy have repeatedly urged amnesty for illegal immigrants and sharply criticized any and all attempts to confront the problem. Fences, walls, interior checkpoints, employer sanctions, California’s Proposition 187, workplace raids, you name it, they are all un-Christian. Being “Christian” presumably means welcoming any and all strangers, without limit, though the Bible does not mandate this.

The majority of these illegal immigrants hail from Latin America. Many are Catholic, it just so happens. Is it boorish to wonder whether there isn’t just a tad of self-interest here, at a time when many American-born members of the flock have strayed from the pews on Sunday morning?

Speaking as an American raised Catholic, I am outraged by these Church officials who strenuously oppose any and all efforts to preserve America’s national sovereignty, a key element of which is determining – and then enforcing – who and how many can enter our land and join our ranks. This is the prerogative of the American people, through our elected representatives. It is not the prerogative of would-be immigrants themselves, however well-intentioned, talented, or ambitious they may be. Literally hundreds of millions would like to migrate here.

My attitudes are shared by most rank-and-file Catholics. As noted in a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, “Despite the strong pro-immigrant statements issued recently by a number of prominent religious leaders…many Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals harbor serious concerns about immigrants and immigration.”

This disconnect between the elite and the rank-and-file is not confined to the Catholic Church or religious institutions in general. A 2002 national poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations found that the divide between the opinions of ordinary Americans and their leaders on immigration was huge. Sixty percent of the public regarded the level of immigration as a "critical threat to the vital interests of the United States," compared to only 14% of the nation’s leadership – a 46% gap. On no other foreign policy-related issue did the American people and their leaders disagree more sharply than immigration.

I mentioned I am a Catholic. I am also a professional ecologist, and one of the principles of this science is recognizing limits. In the finite, real world we live in– neither utopia nor heaven – even compassion has its limits, or there will be hell to pay.

Leon Kolankiewicz is a wildlife biologist, environmental planner, and senior writing fellow for the Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.CAPSweb.org. He can be reached at [email protected]

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