Bishops’ agenda takes left turn
Focus on immigrants, health care, gun control
U.S. Catholic bishops put their left foot forward Monday with a day of strong rhetoric on behalf of immigrants, health care and gun control, and they called for a forceful response to racism in the era of Charlottesville.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting for its fall assembly in Baltimore, has been better known in recent years for its emphasis on issues on the right side of the political divide: opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and restrictions on religious liberty.
But without retreating from
those stances, the bishops spent much of Monday emphasizing the progressive side of their agenda, crystallizing statements they have been making since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Even if the president’s name didn’t come up explicitly, the bishops denounced the crackdowns on illegal immigration under his watch, calling for reforms of the nation’s immigration policy, and they called for reductions in “military-oriented” guns used in mass killings.
They endorsed Pope Francis’ view that immigration reform is a pro-life issue alongside that of opposing abortion. They cited life-anddeath cases of immigrants who, lacking legal status, avoid necessary health care or fear deportation to countries where they’d face lifethreatening situations.
“You don’t make America great by making America mean,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said.
The bishops rebutted those who say, in the terms of Catholic moral theology, that abortion is an “intrinsic evil,” whereas immigration is a matter where reasonable people can disagree on how best to use their “prudential judgment.”
“People take this lightly and dismiss it by saying it’s a prudential judgment,” said San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. But that’s not how moral theology works, he said. Bishops have for years called for reforms to enable immigrants to legalize their status, and people need to study that “developed body of teaching” before proposing something different.
Chicago Cardinal Blaise Cupich lamented that many in the pews have imbibed the “poisoning rhetoric” against immigrants. “Something is wrong in our churches when the gospel is proclaimed yet people leave … with that rhetoric still echoing.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, president of the bishops conference, led with an address that amounted to a wide-ranging manifesto of social-justice concerns. He cited the long effort by Catholic and other faith-based organizations to resist an Obamacare mandate on contraception coverage, which the Trump administration recently agreed to settle in their favor.
But he insisted that “the poor have a right to good and affordable health care.”
He told of bishops’ lobbying on behalf of a bill to legalize the status of so-called Dreamers, young people brought as children illegally into the United States by their parents and who have largely grown up here.
“Keep on dreaming,” Cardinal DiNardo encouraged them.
The Trump administration is phasing out DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a presidential order by former President Barack Obama that gave Dreamers limited legal protection. Congress is considering a legislative solution.
“We are facing a time that seems more divided than ever,” added Cardinal DiNardo, a former priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “Divisions over health care, conscience protections, immigration and refugees, taxes, abortion, physicianassisted suicide, gender ideologies, the meaning of marriage, and all the other headlines continue to be hotly debated. But our role continues to be witnessing to the Gospel.”
He alluded to recent gun massacres and to Pope Francis’ recent denunciation of nations’ “stockpiles” of nuclear arms. “The time is long past due to end the madness of outrageous weapons — be they stockpiled on a continent or in a hotel room,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
Youngstown, Ohio, Bishop George Murry, who leads an ad hoc committee on racism established in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, cited the “troubling resurgence” of open expressions of bigotry, offered documents and other resources Catholics can download from the bishops’ website, and said a pastoral letter on the topic would be coming.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta affirmed the efforts but noted, “Racism is never going to be conquered by speech, but only by actions.”