The Catholic Church and Illegal Immigration

Rod Dreher comments on attitudes of the Catholic bishops toward illegal immigration.

Whatever else the church’s leadership might be teaching new immigrants, respect for American law doesn’t seem to be a high priority. Father Richard John Neuhaus, the First Things editor who is generally pro-immigration, has pointed out that for all their talk about justice in the immigration discussion, the bishops are conspicuously silent about law and order. “Law and order does not guarantee justice,” he writes, “but there can be no justice without law and order.

Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, in First Things, adds that it’s important for bishops to recognize “the need for a highly diverse, rule-of-law society to be careful about the messages it sends to persons who wish to become part of that society.” Ms. Glendon, a leading Catholic intellectual, quotes Pope John Paul II’s teaching that holds all members of society, not just the strong, to account: “Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity should not adopt a purely passive attitude, or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all.”

Could the pope’s words have meaning in the Farmers Branch controversy? Is the growing influx of illegal immigrants in our area “destructive of the social fabric” in ways that make it morally problematic for Catholics and other Christians? Do people concerned about the stability and integrity of their neighborhoods have no claim on justice? These are all legitimate and important questions, and they deserve a thoughtful response, not sentimental speechifying and back-of-the-hand moral preening from prelates.

Bishops, priests and clergy of all faiths could and should play a constructive role in the wrenching and divisive public debate over immigration. We need the prophetic voice of the church to help all of us – immigrants and citizens – navigate between the demands of justice and the call to mercy.

But those bishops and other church folk whose idea of moral leadership is to write off immigration skeptics as nothing more than nasty nativists who make the baby Jesus cry aren’t helping.