By Joe Guzzardi
April 9, 2014
During the Obama presidency, the Constitution has suddenly been thrust back into the limelight, although for the wrong reasons. Many in Congress as well as law professors and journalists question whether the president’s unilateral actions have violated the Founding Fathers’ basic principles. Critics maintain that Obama has ignored the constitutional separation of powers so that he can fulfill his campaign promise to “fundamentally transform” the nation without the inconvenience of seeking congressional approval.
In 2013, Obama said “I will not allow gridlock, or inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way,” a remark he followed up earlier this year with his now famously threatening “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” Obamacare has been the largest beneficiary, if that’s the right word, of the president’s executive orders which have revised key features in the bill to help him meet elusive pre-established deadlines.
Second behind Obamacare for the most executive actions comes immigration. Obama has exempted several categories of aliens from deportation even though as a former professor of constitutional law, he knows that only Congress can determine whether an illegal immigrant can remain. Fundamentally, the president has rewritten immigration law by nullifying existing statutes that mandate deportation.
On immigration, it’s not only the president who willfully ignores the law. The Roman Catholic Church, an active pro-immigration force, has trampled canon law in its ongoing effort to encourage Congress to end deportation and pass new laws more favorable to illegal immigrants.
Writing in his blog “In the Light of the Law,” Dr. Ed Peters, a canon law lawyer, raised the question of whether the bishops who recently celebrated a Mass on the US-Mexico border violated the Catholic Church’s highest body of ecclesiastical orders, canon laws.
Less than a week after President Obama discussed immigration with Pope Francis in the Vatican, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, one of Francis’ key advisers and the Boston Archdiocese’s leader, was joined by members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to celebrate a Mass at the Nogales, Arizona fence that separates the two countries.
Peters, however, maintains that canon law specifically requires that the Eucharistic celebration be held in “a sacred place” unless necessity requires it, e.g., a wartime battlefield.
Regardless of whether priests think immigration is worthy cause, the Catholic Church cannot reasonably argue that the border is a sacred place or that necessity requires that Mass be said there. Peters further notes that there’s no evidence that those who attended the border ceremony were deprived of Mass in their own locales where they could have prayed for more lenient immigration policies. On this point, Peters insists there’s no room for other interpretations. Canon law dictates that Mass should be limited to consecrated venues and not selected randomly.
The broader concern Peters and other Roman Catholics like me raise relate to using Mass as a political tool. Regardless of how noble the Church may think a particular cause may be, in this case immigration reform, it’s impossible not to construe the border Mass as political theater staged to promote a specific agenda— liberalized immigration laws.
Finally, Peters worries that if Mass is said to promote immigration reform, nothing could stop future Masses occurring in other than sacred places on behalf of more controversial political issues.
The Executive Office and the Vatican have the centuries-old Constitution and canon laws to guide them. To arbitrarily disregard their doctrines for self-serving reasons is wrong and inconsistent with the values upon which those laws were written.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]