Catholics and Immigration (January 2010)

While I agree with much of what Lisa Fabrizio wrote in her article (The Catholic Case for Immigration Reform), I felt the need to clarify a few points about Catholics and immigration policy (with which I’m inclined to feel she would generally agree) lest non-Catholic readers get the wrong impression about the Church and Her teaching and thus join the ranks of Bishop Sheen’s misinformed Catholic –haters (those who profess to hate the Catholic Church, while actually opposing a straw-man caricature of Her painted by critics.)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s has, while recognizing the need to strengthen the border to reduce further illegal immigration, endorsed what it calls “broad-based legalization” for those undocumented immigrants who can “demonstrate good moral character and have built up equities in this country.”  Ms. Fabrizio agrees with this stance which runs counter to those of many conservative American Catholics, including me.

Conservative and patriotic American Catholics need not feel ashamed of loving their country and wanting to protect and preserve her institutions and culture.  This is neither racist nor nationalistic.  It is entirely proper.  In his book Memory and Identity, the late Holy Father Pope John Paul II referred to patriotism as “a love for everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, and its natural features.”  Concomitant with that love of country goes a desire to protect and preserve it as the Church Herself protects, preserves, and hands on the Deposit of Faith.  Theologically speaking, he described a healthy patriotism as an example of fidelity to the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue “which obliges us to honor our father and mother.”  Clearly American Catholics can express their patriotism by opposing amnesty consistent with magisterial teaching.

The Church’s Magisterium is a very specific thing: it is the Holy Father, St. Peter’s successor, speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in conjunction with the Bishops, the Apostles successors, only on matters of faith and morals.  There is a specific process under which these statements are made.  These pronouncements are ever unchanging and enjoy the stamp, by the Grace of God, of papal infallibility.  On the other hand a press release issued by the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishop’s on a political matter such as immigration policy is, while given great weight by the faithful, in the end a mere matter of personal opinion, not a pronouncement of the Magisterium, and thus it is not incumbent upon lay Catholics to agree.

An example of this difference can be seen in the Church’s teaching on the life issue: the intentional killing of innocent human life (such as abortion) has always been condemned by the Church as a grave, intrinsic evil and must be seen as such by the Catholic faithful.  The death penalty, on the other hand is seen by the Church’s Magesterium as a legitimate tool of the state to dispense justice, even though the last two Pope’s have been personally opposed to it on practical grounds.  Neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI have ever attempted to (nor could they) change Church teaching on the death penalty despite their personal preference because it is a moral question not subject to change or personal opinion.  National immigration policy, on the other hand, is not subject to the Teaching Office of the Church, thus Conservative catholic’s can disagree with the USCCB stance on amnesty without running afoul of Church teaching.

In her article, Ms. Fabrizio appeals to Christian charity to justify her and the bishop’s stance on amnesty.  This is unfair.  As far as caring for the poor is concerned, it is incumbent on each individual Christian to do their part.  Collectively it is the responsibility of the Church to turn away no one seeking her help.  The Catholic Church is the greatest charitable organization in the world with its vast network of hospitals, schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens.  This is right and proper.  It is the duty of every Christian person and organization to provide for the poor.  It is not, however, the duty of government.

The truth of our obligation to care for the poor and sick is undeniable but does not require or even allow us to transfer this duty to Christian charity to the state.  In fact one may argue that to do so is a sin of omission.  Just as Pilate symbolically washing his hands of the precious Blood of our Lord did not relieve him of responsibility for his part in the Crucifixion, our agitating for government largesse to be showered on illegal immigrants does not relieve us of our own obligation to charity and almsgiving.

As a practical matter liberal immigration policies have had a devastating effect on this country as hundreds, if not thousands of hospitals have been forced to shut their doors, depriving millions of American citizens of convenient access to care and further burdening those hospitals still in operation, because of the flood of illegal immigrants receiving free care at these facilities.  A blanket amnesty program would further burden the system and lead to a new wave of illegal migrants while being grossly unfair to the millions of law-abiding folks waiting patiently for legal entry into this country.

Legally speaking, does Ms. Fabrizio contend that the U.S. government has a moral obligation to legalize, subsidize, and care for all the millions of immigrants in this country illegally?  If so, I ask what is the Vatican – a sovereign nation-state in its own right – policy on such matters.  Does every indigent immigrant who enters St. Peter’s Square and pitches a tent thereon automatically become a citizen with all the rights to housing, health care, and welfare afforded to Church officials?  I think not.  The Church cannot and does not require more of secular governments than it itself provides.

Every nation has a right and duty to its citizens to protect and defend its people, culture, language, and borders.  This is a fact which is consistent with Sacred Scripture (the nation of Israel’s place in salvation history is an example), Holy Tradition, and Magisterial Teaching, all of which affirm these basic rights.  The attempt by any Catholic to appeal to Christian Charity to justify redistributionist government policies is simply misguided.

About michaelstjoseph

Michael St. Joseph is the pen-name of a Catholic conservative citizen of the greatest country in the history of civilization. He has a law enforcement background and lives with his family in the New York area. He can be reached at michaelst.joseph@yahoo.com.
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