We are not first political conservatives or political liberals, or any other permutation of the fluid contemporary political labels bandied about so freely these days. We are Catholics first, last and all in between. We need to approach all the issues associated with comprehensive immigration reform with the mind of the Lord as revealed to us through the teaching office of His Church.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Like many of you I have been following the debate concerning the subject of comprehensive immigration reform. It is an important issue which will not retreat from the front burner, even in the wake of the terrorism which recently occurred in the City of my birth, Boston, Massachusetts on April 22, 2013.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, joined by Archbishop Jose Gomez and Bishop John C Wester, recently held a Press Conference where they addressed the pressing need to continue on the path to immigration reform even in the wake of that tragedy. They are correct.
There is no doubt that comprehensive Immigration reform is an emotionally charged subject. That is another reason why it is so important that Catholic citizens approach it from the foundation of the principles and truths offered in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Along with a good translation of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, every Catholic citizen should have a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church readily available.
We are not first political conservatives or political liberals, or any other permutation of the fluid contemporary political labels bandied about so freely these days. We are Catholics - first, last and all in between. We need to approach all the issues associated with comprehensive immigration reform with the mind of the Lord as revealed to us through the teaching office of His Catholic Church. .
Catholic Social doctrine needs to be rescued from those who seek to use it as a proof text to legitimize their own social, cultural, economic, or political positions when those positions fail to line up with its' foundational insistence upon the dignity of every human person and our obligation in solidarity.
The social teaching of the Catholic Church is a division of Moral Theology. It offers truths to guide our thought and action as well as principles which we are called to work into the loaf of human culture. It is meant to assist us in our task of building a more just and human society.
Yes, such principles can leave room for the application of prudential judgment.However, our task as Catholic citizens is not to put literal or figurative proof texts from Catholic Social Teaching around our own pet political, social or economic theories. This has gone on for too long, both on the political left and the political right.
We must start with Catholic teaching, read it, study it, pray it through, embrace it and then seek to inform our social and cultural participation - which includes our political participation - upon the principles and truths it offers, no matter what the particular application of that teaching comes to be labeled in the political parlance of the hour.
Our social participation must be uncompromising in its commitment to human life and dignity, marriage and the family and society founded upon them, authentic human freedom including religious freedom and solidarity as properly directed by the application of the social ordering principle of subsidiarity.
Our social obligation is to promote the true common good, and reject the myriad of counterfeits which now steal that phrase and try to use it as a cover while they promote a dehumanizing ideology and reject the very existence of a Natural Moral Law which must inform the civil law.
Now, let's turn to comprehensive immigration reform. We must always start out with the recognition of the dignity of every human person, including those seeking to migrate. We can certainly debate the specifics of a comprehensive immigration policy, but we must reject any rhetoric and oppose any political position which denigrates human dignity or denies our obligation in solidarity with the migrant.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles is the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop's Committee on Migration. He calls us to approach immigration reform with a Catholic mind and a Catholic heart. He is a voice of moral clarity in this area wrought with emotionally charged rhetoric. We need to listen to his voice and let it help direct our political participation.
On July 28, 2011 the Archbishop gave an address to the Napa Institute entitled "Immigration and the "Next America": Perspectives from Our History" which can be read in its entirety here. It should be mandatory reading for any Catholic truly concerned about this pressing social challenge.
He had so much of value to say that I offer several quotes from the speech. In "Next America" he writes: "Our political debate about immigration in America frustrates me. Often I think we are we are just talking around the edges of the real issues. Both sides of this argument are inspired by a beautiful, patriotic idea of America's history and values. But lately I've been starting to wonder."
"What America are we really talking about? America is changing and it has been changing for a long time. The forces of globalization are changing our economy and forcing us to rethink the scope and purpose of our government. Threats from outside enemies are changing our sense of national sovereignty."
"America is changing on the inside, too. Our culture is changing. We have a legal structure that allows, and even pays for, the killing of babies in the womb. Our courts and legislatures are redefining the natural institutions of marriage and the family. We have an elite culture - in government, the media and academia - that is openly hostile to religious faith".
"America is becoming a fundamentally different country. It is time for all of us to recognize this - no matter what our position is on the political issue of immigration. We need to recognize that immigration is part of a larger set of questions about our national identity and destiny. What is America? What does it mean to be an American? "Who are we as a people - and where are heading as a country? What will the "next America" look like?"
"As Catholics who are faithful citizens in America, we have to answer these questions within a larger frame of reference. We have to always remember that there is more to the life of any nation than the demands of the moment in politics, economics and culture. We have to consider all of those demands and the debates about them in light of God's plan for the nations."
"This is a big challenge for us in this culture. Our culture pushes us to "privatize" our faith, to separate our faith from our life in society. We always have to resist that temptation. We are called to live our faith in our businesses, homes and communities, and in our participation in public life. That means we have to bring a Catholic faith perspective to this debate about immigration. We cannot just think about this issue as Democrats or Republicans or as liberals or conservatives".
"That means we have to listen to the teachings of our Church on this issue. But that's not what I want to talk about today. I think we all know the teachings of our Church on this issue. What we need to understand better is how to see immigration in light of America's history and purposes, as seen through the perspective of our Catholic faith. When we understand immigration from this perspective we can see that immigration is not a problem for America. It's an opportunity. It is a key to our American renewal."
He continued to offer such clarity in an address he gave on August 3, 2011 at the 129th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Denver, Colorado. It can be read in its entirety here. Here are some excerpts:
"I know this issue is hard for people - including many people who are trying to be good Catholics. I am not a politician. I am a pastor of souls - and an American citizen. That is my perspective on these issues. As pastor of the largest Catholic community in the United States, I am deeply affected by our nation's immigration policy crisis. Historically, the Catholic Church has always been a Church of immigrants - just as America has always been a nation of immigrants.
"American Catholics form one spiritual family drawn from some 60 ethnic and national groups from every continent. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, ministry and worship is conducted in 42 languages. About 70 percent of the flock I minister to is Hispanic. And Los Angeles is not exception - but a sign of the future. More than one-third of Catholics in America today are of Latino descent - and that number is growing."
"Hispanics accounted for almost 60 percent of our population growth in the last ten years. They now make up 16 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly one-quarter of all American children age 17 and under are Hispanic. So immigration policy, especially as it relates to Latino immigration, is of deep concern to us as Catholics and as citizens".
"The Church's perspective on these issues is rooted in Jesus Christ's teaching that every human person is created in God's image and has God-given dignity and rights. From a Catholic standpoint, America's founders got it exactly right. Human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are universal and inalienable. They come from God, not governments. And these rights are not contingent on where you are born or what racial or ethnic group you are born into."
"The human right to life, the foundation of every other right, implies the natural right to emigrate. Because - in order for you and your family to live a life worthy of your God-given dignity, certain things are required. At minimum: food, shelter, clothing, and the means to make a decent living. If you and your family are unable to secure life's necessities in your home country - due to political instability, economic distress, religious persecution, or other conditions that offend basic human dignity - you must be free to seek these things in another country."
"In Catholic thinking, the right to immigration is a "natural right." That means it is universal and inalienable. But it is not absolute. Immigrants are obliged to respect and abide by the laws and traditions of the countries they come to reside in. Catholic teaching also recognizes the sovereignty of nations to secure their borders and make decisions about who - and how many - foreigners they allow into their countries."
"Our government has the duty to consider immigration's impact on the domestic economy and our national security. However, we must always make sure that we are not exaggerating these concerns in ways that deny the basic humanitarian needs of good people seeking refuge in our country. These Catholic principles are consistent with America's founding ideals. They are also consistent with America's proud legacy as one nation under God made up from many peoples of all races and creeds."
"Based on these principles the American bishops support comprehensive immigration policy reform that protects the integrity of our national borders and provides undocumented immigrants the opportunity to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship. So the political issue is basically this: How can we find a way to accept these newcomers and balance that with the need for our nation to protect our borders, to control the flow of immigrants, and to keep track of who is living within our borders?"
"But the important thing for us is to approach these political issues - not as Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives - but as Catholics. And as Catholics, we should be alarmed by the human toll of our failure to fix our broken immigration system. America has always been a nation of justice and law. But as Americans we have also always been a people of generosity, mercy and forgiveness."
"Unfortunately, our nation's current response to illegal immigration is not worthy of our national character. My point is simple: We need to find a better way to make immigration policy and enforce it. And in this policy debate, Catholics have a special place; because Catholics especially bear the truth about all Americans. Namely, that we are all children of immigrants."
"If we trace the genealogies of everyone in this room today, they will lead us out beyond our borders to some foreign land where each of our ancestors originally came from. In my personal case, the first members of my family came to what now is Texas in 1805. Our inheritance comes to us now as a gift and as a duty."
"At the least, it means we should have some empathy for this new generation of immigrants.For Christians, empathy means seeing Jesus Christ in every person and especially in the poor and the vulnerable. And we need to remember, my friends: Jesus was uncompromising on this point.In the evening of our lives, he told us, our love for God will be judged by our love for him in the person of the least among us. This includes, he said, the immigrant or the stranger."
"Very few people "choose" to leave their homelands. Emigration is almost always forced upon people by the dire conditions they face in their lives. Most of the men and women who are here illegally have traveled hundreds even thousands of miles. They have left everything behind, risked their safety and even their lives. They did this, not for their own comfort or selfish needs. They did this to feed their loved ones. To be good mothers and fathers. To be loving sons and daughters."
"In light of the unprecedented bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform expressed during the last week, I call upon President Obama and congressional leadership to work together to enact bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform in 2013."
"I am heartened by the recent public statements of the leaders of both political parties supporting the consideration of comprehensive immigration reform in the new Congress. I urge the President and Congress to seize the moment and begin the challenging process of fashioning a bipartisan agreement."
"For decades, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for a just and humane reform of our nation's immigration system. We have witnessed the family separation, exploitation, and the loss of life caused by the current system. Millions of persons remain in the shadows, without legal protection and marginalized from society. As a moral matter, this suffering must end."
"I invite our fellow Catholics and others of good will to make their voices heard in support of this important issue. I encourage our elected officials to work toward the creation of a system which upholds the rule of law, preserves family unity, and protects the human rights and dignity of the person."
The Archbishop of Los Angeles is right on the pressing need for comprehensive immigration reform. He speaks with clarity, compassion and common sense. We need to listen to him. We need to stand with him.
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