[See earlier Is the Rule of Law Immoral? Ask Archbishop José Gomez!]
Last week we looked at the Catholic Church and its advocacy of legislation granting amnesty to illegal aliens. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who leads the Church's campaign, has condemned the "nativism" and "bigotry" which in his view often motivates the advocates of the rule of law.
This is not the first time that bishops have taken sides on a political issue that divides Catholics. For two years and more, Bishop Stephen Blaire, who also hails from California, has lambasted Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, for authoring a budget that Bp. Blaire calls "unjust and wrong."
As Timothy Cardinal Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) observes, bishops have the right to hold personal opinions on political matters. However, in their role as shepherds, they must teach "precepts," not take partisan positions. Bishops Blaire and Gomez, seemingly oblivious to the Cardinal's assurances, have conducted their political advocacy not as individuals, but in the name of the Catholic Church. Bp. Blaire is Chairman of the USCCB "Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development," while Abp. Gomez chairs the USCCB "Committee on Migration."
The language that the two bishops use to advocate their personal legislative agendas is so specific in nature and so strident in tone that an unsuspecting listener might be led to assume that their views represent the authentic, magisterial teaching of the Church.
If they do, a question arises: in the words of Canon Law, must a Catholic "adhere with religious submission of mind" to these bishops' political views with the same fervor with which the faithful are called on to believe in the truths of the Creed or the objective evil of abortion?
Bishop Blaire has repeatedly refused to answer that question, but two other key prelates have, as the Rubble reported last fall when it examined the Ryan issue at length.
In May 2011, Cardinal Dolan affirmed Ryan's rights as a layman. "We bishops are very conscious that we are pastors, never politicians. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, it is the lay faithful who have the specific charism of political leadership and decision," he wrote.[PDF]
In addition, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Rep. Ryan's bishop, distinguished between two classes of issues: those issues involving moral absolutes which bind the informed Catholic conscience, on the one hand, and those prudential issues on which the faithful are free to differ with regard to particular approaches, on the other. The first category addresses "intrinsic evils," Bishop Morlino wrote, while the second comprises issues "where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor," Bp. Morlino continued, "is probably the finest current example of this."[Subsidiarity, solidarity, and the lay mission, August 16, 2012 -]
Bishops, Borders, and Benevolence
These helpful observations apply to the immigration debate as well. There too, we find a Catholic Congressman who disagrees with a USCCB political position, basing his approach on Catholic social teaching (as both Rep. Ryan and the bishops also do), but differing on the prudential application of those principles to legislative particulars.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is a longtime member of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security and an outspoken opponent of amnesty for illegal aliens. He is a layman who has acquired considerable expertise on the immigration issue—precisely the kind of experience and expertise which Vatican II encourages and respects.
Rep. King tells the Rubble that he finds no contradiction between his Catholic faith and his support of the rule of law. "Of course we have to preserve and protect the dignity of every human person," he says—insisting that his approach to immigration law does just that.
"Every country has the right to define its own borders," he continues, "and to develop laws to defend them." In his view, amnesty for illegal aliens would reward those who have defied the rule of law, thus weakening the respect for law not only among immigrants, but among all Americans.
"Here I am, quoting Scripture!" he says. "But the bishops are claiming expertise on the budget and on immigration, too." Resonating Cardinal Dolan, he continues: "Paul Ryan is an expert on the budget and I'm an expert on immigration. I think that Catholics should be permitted to work in their areas of expertise, and to disagree with one another."
So what about welcoming the stranger? "The Greek word [for "stranger"] is xenos," he says, "and I'm told that xenos refers to an invited friend, not just anybody."
Your humble Rubbler dutifully pulled out his old Liddell-Scott-Jones Classical Greek Lexicon, acquired while studying Greek at Notre Dame in its Catholic days. Sure enough, the LSJ recounts several instances from Homer to Sophocles which do imply that xenos refers to an "invited guest"; when it refers to a foreigner, a formal invitation—even a treaty—often precedes the visit.
Score one for Rep. King.
But what about mercy? Rep. King is direct: "Mercy never comes without repentance," he says. Well, as far as Abp. Gomez is concerned, the folks who need to repent are not the illegals, but those who call them "illegals" and refuse to support amnesty. The archbishop spends precious little time admonishing the illegals not to steal Social Security numbers and welfare benefits, although the temptation to do so is strong indeed.
On reflection, mercy can easily be practiced while supporting the rule of law. The Rubble observes that, in our rural Virginia parish, many opponents of amnesty nonetheless teach illegal aliens English as a Second Language, as well as sponsoring a Hispanic liturgy and religious education, all in Spanish.
When the occasion arises, a good Catholic might also mingle mercy with justice.
Our Parochial Vicar called me one snowy day and asked me to translate for a Salvadoran who had just knocked on the rectory door. The fellow was indeed uninvited—he had no friends in our community, no job, and no plans. "I'd like to go home (to El Salvador), he told me, "but my wife wants our kids to go to school (free, of course) here."
Our parish provided the family with food and shelter, as he requested. But did it violate mercy—or simple common sense, the Cardinal Virtue of prudence—to suggest to the fellow that perhaps he should consider taking his wife and kids back home to the family farm in Sonsonate?
For many bishops, immigration appears to be a one-way street: once you're in, you never have to go back. Illegals brought "out of the shadows" have the right to stay here—and the much-touted "family reunification" should never take place back home, where they're all legal. (Meanwhile, Cardinal Dolan admits that the bishops haven't brought the Church's teaching on sexual morality "out of the shadows" for more than fifty years, but that is another, although quite related, story).
The Bishop Demurs
Rep. King hails from Kiron, Iowa, which is located in the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City. The Rubble wondered, has Rep. King's bishop defended his right to disagree with Bishop Gomez the way Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Morlino defended Rep. Ryan's?
I called Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless, and soon heard from his spokesman, Tom Chapman, of the Iowa Catholic Conference. "Does Bishop Nickless recognize Rep. King's right as a Catholic layman to disagree with Abp. Gomez on the amnesty issue," I asked?
After conferring with Bishop Nickless, Mr. Chapman responded: "Bishop Nickless does not want to address that question. He supports the USCCB's position, although he has made no specific comments himself on the pending legislation."
There you have it. Bishop Nickless supports the "rights" of illegal aliens to amnesty and a "path to citizenship," but he will not express support for the rights of Catholic laymen in his own diocese as articulated in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium.
Lumen Gentium is also known as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Consider: that "Dogmatic Constitution" is Church law. The Church, like the state, depends for its survival on the rule of law. Why won't Bishop Nickless support it?
I asked him again; tune in next week for his response.
From Under the Rubble is copyright (c) 2013 by Christopher Manion. All rights reserved. This column is sponsored by the Bellarmine Forum, and distributed by Griffin Internet Syndicate and FGF Books,. It may be forwarded if credit is given to the author.
Christopher Manion, Ph.D., is Director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae, a project of the Bellarmine Forum. He served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College.