Issue Date: April 14, 2006
Mahony on immigration
Cardinal says Catholic opposition to 'punitive' measures is rooted in Gospels, tradition of the U.S. church
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
In late February, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony made national headlines, not only by opposing a tough new measure adopted by the House of Representatives aimed at stemming illegal immigration, but by announcing that he would instruct his priests to defy provisions that could require them to check for residency documents before administering certain kinds of assistance.
The Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, H.R. 4437, sponsored by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., passed the House Dec. 16. The Senate is currently considering another immigration reform package, closer to the comprehensive approach advocated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Mahonys history of advocacy in favor of immigrants goes back to the early 1980s, when he was bishop of Stockton, Calif. His latest stand has drawn praise from forces opposed to a crackdown, but also criticism from some who think the cardinal is functioning more like a politician than a clergyman.
Mahony, however, has not been cowed. Last week, he called for a special day of prayer and fasting ahead of the expected Senate vote. During the recent Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles, he sat down with NCR to discuss the issue.
NCR: A recent piece titled Cardinal Errors in
National Review suggested that you are overstepping your bounds by
opposing particular pieces of legislation and proposing others. How do you
What gave me the impetus to come out and say were not going to do it is that this bill, Sensenbrenner Bill 4437, got passed just before Christmas and nobody was focused on it. Everybody was focused on the holidays and nobody was paying much attention. National Migration Day was the first weekend after Jan. 1 in the United States, so we had a big Migration Mass, and I brought this up. I said theres a sleeper out there, this bill. If you tease it out to its absurd finality, it means that giving many kinds of aid to immigrants makes you a felon.
Giving a sandwich to a hungry man could theoretically be a criminal
I talked yesterday to [California Sen. Dianne] Feinstein on the phone, and I think weve been able to turn her around very nicely. Even [California Sen. Barbara] Boxer. They were very hesitant to look at a comprehensive bill. I said to Sen. Feinstein, there are five necessary elements of a comprehensive bill. When we only do one or two of them, we suffer the consequences of not doing the others. For example, in 1986, we did this comprehensive amnesty thing, but you, Congress, didnt do the rest of it. All of a sudden you wake up and say, Weve got 11 million undocumented people here. How did this happen? Because you didnt give any leadership to deal with it. We cant make that mistake again. Weve got to do the whole thing this time.
Weve got to deal with the people who are here, weve got to deal with the people who are coming, weve got to deal with the fact that this is a magnet for jobs because no one here will do the jobs, weve got to deal with the kids in high school and college all the pieces and parts have to be dealt with. Otherwise, were going to end up 10 or 20 years from now saying, Oh my God, weve got all these illegals. I just felt it was necessary to get out there in front with it, but to do it in our spiritual Gospel tradition of making room for the strangers, as Jesus said. It coincided nicely with Ash Wednesday, and with my own message about making room for Jesus and the specific plight of migrants.
Could a Catholic in good faith vote in favor of the Sensenbrenner
So this is not a matter of prudential judgment on which you would
recognize the legitimacy of other views. Its an absolute?
What would you do if a Catholic politician in your archdiocese
supports it anyway?
But it could.
What kind of responses have you received from your brother
The shock is that somebodys actually doing something about
Is it possible to get a coordinated national effort?
You have a sense that theres a genuine consensus in the
conference behind the position youve taken?
This is a divisive issue, and no doubt there are people in your
archdiocese with different feelings. How do you deal with that?
More than that, the negative letters Ive gotten I havent read them all, but I ask my secretary to give me an assortment. Most simply dont understand the issues and what the church is trying to do. Its a time to educate. I dont want to get people angry or upset, I want to try to educate them, inform them. Its pretty tough when you take Matthew 25, and one of the categories [for the Last Judgment] is how you care for strangers. Of course, the Old Testament is even stronger in terms of our response to aliens in our midst. I try to be sympathetic, to be understanding, and to call people together.
But I also tell proponents of immigration reform that you cant do dumb things that are going to continue to cloud the issue. Carrying Mexican flags in a demonstration for immigration reform in the United States is stupid. It simply creates the wrong message, because that isnt the message. Take out the Mexican flags and give everybody an American flag. Thats what this is about, making people citizens, for Gods sake. So I try to encourage people to do things that are going to be effective. Do things that are going to help.
Your activism also, it seems to me, gives the lie to the myth that
because of the sexual abuse crisis the church has been muzzled in the public
But what this illustrates is that the way to get off the mat is to
get off the mat.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Word From Rome
National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2006
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