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There’s been a slight burst of discussion this week about why, exactly, those Catholic bishops seem to fall on the “liberal” end of the immigration debate. The consensus is that it’s because the Church is collapsing around them, they’ve given up on native born Americans and the only way to keep it going is to let all the Hispanics in and boost the numbers.
This first starting swirling around in the Corner, the NRO blog. Then John Zmirak picked it up and Rod Dreher continued the thread. Irenaus comments here.
Now, I have my disagreements with the bishops’ stance on immigration, both as a body and many of the individual bishops. I have a huge problem with the way, for example, some bishops seem to imply that thinking with them on the specifics – policy prescriptions –  of immigration law and practice should take the highest priority possible in a Catholic’s life. Cardinal Mahony, for example, has been at the forefront, declaring that he will ignore various laws and attaching deep approbation to enforcement attempts and so on. Which is his right. I suppose he can prioritize anything he wants. But in light of other issues out there on which he could also speak with such defiance, but doesn’t…it rings hollow.
 I simply think that sometimes the relationship between  general principles of Catholic social thought – which are definitely supportive of the rights of the migrant and of the aspirations of migrating individuals and keeping families intact in that world – and specific policy prescriptions collapse in the way that bishops and their policy arms discuss this.  I think they ignore certain realities that greatly concern those on the “other side” of the issue and it is not right to dismiss those concerns as indicative of simple racism or xenophobia or “fear of the stranger.”
But. To say that the bishops are taking the stance they do because they’re trying to boost the numbers is pretty silly.
First of all because – and forgive me for saying this, but it’s true – the influx of Hispanics Catholics into the US is seen as a great blessing, of course, but it is also seen as a huge challenge, if you will, if you insist on looking at things in a brutal cost/benefit analysis. Hispanic Catholics do tend to be poor, and the needs of their parishes don’t exactly push diocesan coffers into the black. The influx of Hispanic Catholics has caused an enormous strain on already overburdened clergy resources.
And everyone is deeply aware that the Church’s ministry to Hispanic Catholics is woefully inadequate.
(Which of course begs the question which bugs me…when is the Anglo-dominated US Church going to be able to see Hispanic Catholics – soon to be about half of the US Catholic population – as something other than a “them” composing a  “minority” to whom “we” must minister?)
Secondly, I want to take on Zmirak’s and Dreher’s contentions that the bishops have given up on trying to form “old” Catholics so, they’ll try their luck with the new ones, and see if that can get things going again.
Well, of course, I’m no fan of the general course of Catholic formation and catechesis in the United States, but in regard to this specific issue, the contention just makes no sense and is incredibly cynical.
Because, really, all you have to look at is some of the bishops who have taken what some, I suppose, would call the most “liberal” stances on immigration policy in the U.S.
Gomez of San Antonio (pdf – pastoral letter)
Slattery of Tulsa (pdf – pastoral letter)
Chaput of Denver (interview)
What a bunch of dissenting, do-nothing, indifferent catechetical slackers.
It’s an amazingly complex issue, and no, I don’t agree with every policy prescription or analysis of the issue that comes from a bishop’s pen.  But I also think that the perspective of pastors who have responsibility  for these immigrants as they come to their parishes and are ministred to in other ways by the Church should be taken seriously. They often see things that the rest of us cannot – or refuse – to see.
In my relatively uniformed opinion, the bulk of the current problem is caused by:
1. An understaffed, totally incompetent creature called the INS – Correction! ICE!
2. The power of business and agribusiness to have its way in terms of the law and enforcement to keep the supply of cheap labor open and freely flowing.
Whenever I have an immigration thread, the most valuable comments, in my mind, come from pastors and others involved in ministry who are out there, on the ground, working with immigrants.  I also find that these threads fill up as fast as the liturgy threads. We’ll see….

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