Bishop’s October Reflection: Speak Out for Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Last month a former member of the White House staff, Steve Bannon, a Catholic, gave an interview to Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes in which he gave an assessment of the Catholic Church and their position on immigration issues in the United States.

When questioned about the opposition expressed by some U.S. bishops to President Trump’s decision to rescind immigration protection afforded under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA), he responded: “The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? …they need illegal aliens to fill the churches. …they have an economic interest. … As much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine… This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.”

There are so many ways that this statement is disrespectful, inflammatory and simplistic in portraying the position of the Catholic Church. This response is politically motivated around the issue of immigration and the fact that the bishops continue to demand respect for immigrants living in our country and advocate for just and supportive ways to normalize their status. I believe two statements Mr. Bannon made are wrong and should be addressed so we are clear about our Church’s stand on the issues surrounding immigration.

In regards to the Church’s position on immigration, it is not based on economic interest, nor on filling the pews, but on the central command of Jesus to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Our understanding of this text is revealed in two of the great teachings of Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the final judgment of all humanity and reminds us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matt 25:35).

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, told by Jesus in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?,”  it is the foreigner who tends to the needs of the man who was robbed – and not just any foreigner. The Jews were filled with hostility and dislike for any Samaritan person. It was an animosity that was political, religious and rooted in a long history of conflict. The fact that there was such dislike and hostility between Jews and Samaritans is what gives the use of the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan such force! (Luke 10:29-37) The Samaritan is the one who is able to rise above the bigotry and prejudices of centuries and show mercy and compassion for the injured Jew after the Jew’s own countrymen passed him by!
These great teachings of Jesus remind us that we are always to love our neighbor and that this love must work for the support of those in need and insure their just and respectful treatment. This command of Jesus to love one another certainly includes the immigrant among us. This is not an economic teaching, but rather the true reflection of the loving heart of Jesus to those among us who deserve their status to be normalized, to not have their families divided, to not live in fear of losing everything they have built in the U.S. and who deserve the respect that should be given to every child of God.

The second statement that was expressed should cause us to stand up immediately and cry out, “NO!”  He says the bishops are just “another guy with an opinion.” He is specific when he says he believes this is a political matter, not a doctrinal issue. Therefore, he believes the bishops’ teaching, the teaching of the Church, is just a political opinion like anyone else.  That might be true if I told you to root for the Cowboys and not the Saints, or if I tried to give some stock advice, but in this case the Church is teaching. The teaching of the Church is not just any other opinion, but an exhortation on how to live as disciples of Christ in this world today. We believe that Jesus is not just one opinion to be considered among many, but that He IS The WAY, The TRUTH and The LIFE.  We believe Jesus, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks truth through the Magisterium of the Church, the bishops, and it is not only the “opinion of just another guy.” The bishops often state that there are many ways to find a political solution, but the Church insists that any comprehensive plan should be just, respectful, merciful and acknowledge the gifts and value that immigrants, our brothers and sisters in Christ, have to offer our country, our city and our Church.

We must speak out for our immigrant brothers and sisters who need our support. We cannot allow this to simply be a political, cold, application of law to the unknown among us. These are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our fellow Catholics who receive the Body and Blood of Christ with us at the altar at Mass. Our only ordination to the priesthood this year, Fr. Fidel Mondragón, is from Mexico.  This should be personal to us because it affects members of our Catholic family. Our stance is not economic; it is not just an opinion. It is simply doing what we do: showing love and solidarity with our brothers and sisters because they are children of God and because we are disciples of Christ who commands that we “love one another.”