Bish­ops’ agenda takes left turn

Fo­cus on im­mi­grants, health care, gun con­trol

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front page - By Peter Smith

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.”

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