In December, after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a tough border security bill that, among other things, would make it a crime to assist illegal immigrants, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops assailed it as extremely punitive and called on its flock to oppose it. Church officials have sent lobbyists to Congress and this month parishes sent members to rallies in Chicago and Washington to push for legislation that would legalize undocumented immigrants and put them on the path to citizenship.
Some Republicans are firing back.
In February, Representative Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who opposes illegal immigration, took issue with Catholic bishops, among other religious leaders, "for invoking God when arguing for a blanket amnesty" for illegal immigrants. This month, two powerful Republican representatives, Peter King of New York and F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the co-sponsors of the border security bill, criticized the church leadership on "The O’Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel, particularly Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who has said he would instruct his priests and parishioners to defy the legislation if it ever became law.
Meanwhile, cable news commentators Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs have questioned whether the church should maintain its tax-exempt status, given its political activism on immigration. And in an interview, Mr. King accused church leaders of "committing the sin of hypocrisy" in their campaign to sway Congress and Catholic voters.
"This is the left wing of the Catholic Church — these are the frustrated social workers," said Mr. King, who described himself as a practicing Catholic. "They’re giving an incentive for more illegals to come here. I don’t think it’s right."