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Bishops to the Left of Senate Dems on Immigration

May 10, 2010

In commenting on the “Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform” (REPAIR) proposal offered by Senate Democrats, the top Catholic in the U.S. on immigration issues says that it spends too much money on border enforcement and not enough on bailing out the economies of Mexico and Central America.

Bishop John C. Wester, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration issued a statement on Friday declaring that the Bishops “have concerns about the increases in enforcement resources contained in the framework” because “the United States has poured billions of dollars into immigration enforcement” and the money “has not only not solved the problem but in some cases led to the abuse of migrants.” He suggested more foreign aid was the answer to keeping immigrants in their home countries.

However, Jim Russell, head of Catholics for a Moral Immigration Policy, told AIM that more money, not less, should be spent on border security, and that the Bishops are wrong to oppose Arizona’s new immigration law. 

Conservative Catholic James Todd of Pewsitter.com, which is “the voice of the Catholic lay faithful,” has taken Cardinal Roger Mahony to task for comparing the Arizona law to Nazism. “His comments really served no purpose but to ratchet up the rhetoric,” Todd noted. “One wonders if he even read the law.  It’s only seventeen pages and having read it, there is nothing in it that would justify such an over-the-top slam. I would call it a quite reasonable and commonsense law―and one that I support.”

Todd says that he is surprised that conservative Bishops have joined the liberals to express opposition to the law and he cannot understand why they fail to comprehend the desire of the majority of the citizens of Arizona and the U.S. itself to see laws against illegal immigration enforced.

The Washington Post noted that the Senate Democratic proposal or “framework” includes “a slew of new immigration enforcement measures aimed at U.S. borders and workplaces.” It added, “The Democrats’ shift underscores how, in the struggle between enforcement advocates and legalization backers, the former seem to be gaining, experts said.” The Democrats releasing the proposal were Charles Schumer (NY), Harry Reid (NV), Robert Menendez (NJ), Patrick Leahy (VT), Dick Durbin (IL) and Dianne Feinstein (CA).

Of the Bishops, perhaps the most far-left on the immigration issue is Cardinal Mahony, who participated in the “May Day” rally in Los Angeles in support of illegal aliens. It was one of dozens of such rallies across the U.S.

In Washington, D.C., in a rally sponsored by Casa de Maryland, which is financed by the Catholic Church and various governmental entities, demonstrators labeled Arizona as a reincarnation of the Nazi state and comparable to the old South African regime that segregated people in an apartheid system. Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez fired up the crowd before getting himself arrested in a protest at the White House.

One demonstrator was spotted and photographed wearing a communist Che Guevara T-shirt, while members of the Socialist Workers Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation mingled with the crowd, passing out Marxist literature. At a previous March 21 illegal immigration rally, Marxists were selling copies of the Communist Manifesto in Spanish.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. Catholic hierarchy rallies to the cause of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Catholic parishioners in Cleveland, Ohio, are protesting a plan by Bishop Richard Lennon to “downsize the diocese” and close 50 churches. The parishioners are calling themselves “Endangered Catholics” and have launched a website to save the ethnic European and black Catholic churches targeted for closure. 

The closures are being blamed on financial shortfalls and “changing demographics,” meaning that Hispanics have become more important to the church and whites have become less important.

Indeed, Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report has cited evidence that four times as many Catholics are leaving the faith as are joining it but that a surge in Hispanic immigration “has offset the steady decline of white Catholics.”

The latest figures show that 40 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic. The same evidence shows that many immigrant workers in the U.S. are “undocumented” and 74 percent of them are Catholic.

It is this demographic, rather than moral or religious concern, that is driving official Catholic concern for immigrants, legal and illegal. In fact, seventy percent of the country’s largest Catholic diocese in Los Angeles, run by Cardinal Mahony, are Hispanic.

Rocco Palmo, who covers the politics of the Roman Catholic Church, recently told National Public Radio that Hispanics constitute half of other major archdioceses like New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. “It’s been a staggering shift in the life of the American church,” he said. This shift explains Catholic support for legalizing illegal immigrants.

In a bow to reality, Lisa Miller points out in Newsweek magazine that the bishops “have a practical stake in fighting the [Arizona] law and supporting federal immigration reform.” She writes, “The number of Hispanics in America has grown from about 6 million in 1960 to about 50 million today. Nearly 70 percent of Hispanics in America are Catholic. With whites abandoning Catholicism in droves, a growing, vital American church depends on Hispanic families.”

On the Fox News Channel, Father Jonathan Morris denied that official Catholic Church opposition to the bill was about keeping Hispanics in the pews. Morris, a paid network contributor, gave a confusing and contradictory performance, saying that he supported enforcement of immigration laws in general but was opposed to the Arizona law in particular. However, regarding Mahony’s incendiary rhetoric, Morris would only say, “I would not use those words.”   

Those words appear to reflect the heavy presence of Hispanics in the area. The Vatican in early April named Archbishop José Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, as the new Archbishop of Los Angeles, replacing Mahony, who leaves his post next year. The media have noted that the appointment puts Gomez on track to become the first Hispanic Cardinal in America .

Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist, in his book, Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders, declared, “Churches pander to illegal aliens, seeking financial windfalls when more church members come across the borders. This is especially true of the Catholic Church, because so many of the Mexicans coming here are Catholic.”

Gilchrist and his co-author, Jerome Corsi, wrote a story for Human Events in 2006 accusing Cardinal Mahony of using the immigration issue to “build his base of parishioners.” They said that the $200 million used to build his Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which was dedicated in 2001, should have been used “to provide some of the benefits illegals already here are demanding” rather than dumping these costs on taxpayers who bear the brunt of their illegal presence.

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