Why Catholic bish­ops stay quiet about im­mi­grants

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - INSIGHT - By Celia Viggo Wexler Celia Viggo Wexler is the au­thor of “Catholic Women Con­front Their Church: Sto­ries of Hurt and Hope” (Row­man & Lit­tle­field). To com­ment, sub­mit your let­ter to the ed­i­tor at SFChron­i­cle.com/letters.

When the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed to re­quire nearly all em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing re­li­giously af­fil­i­ated in­sti­tu­tions, to of­fer health in­sur­ance plans that cov­ered con­tra­cep­tion, Amer­i­can bish­ops re­acted as if the White House had de­clared war on Christ­mas.

Yet we’ve heard lit­tle from the bish­ops about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy on im­mi­grants.

Even af­ter the White House soft­ened its pol­icy to en­sure that no re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion would have to pay for the new health cov­er­age, the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops as­sailed the com­pro­mise.

The bish­ops called the re­quire­ment a “grave moral con­cern” that con­sti­tuted “need­less gov­ern­ment in­tru­sion in the in­ter­nal gov­er­nance of re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions.” Thir­teen dio­ce­ses joined ma­jor Catholic in­sti­tu­tions in law­suits to block the reg­u­la­tion.

In 2012, the bish­ops launched a “Fort­night for Free­dom,” an an­nual two-week pe­riod of prayer and preach­ing that as­sailed the con­tra­cep­tive man­date as a pal­pa­ble threat to re­li­gious lib­erty.

The bish­ops’ web­site still brims with press re­leases, state­ments, tes­ti­mony, ac­tion alerts, and prayer vig­ils tied to this one is­sue. (The fort­night was dis­con­tin­ued in 2018, re­placed by a “re­li­gious free­dom” week.)

Fast-for­ward to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­creas­ingly dra­co­nian poli­cies con­cern­ing im­mi­grants. Catholic moral teach­ing is pretty clear: The Gospels tell us to wel­come the poor and needy, and to care for the strangers in our midst. In­deed, the con­fer­ence of bish­ops runs pro­grams to help refugees and im­mi­grants, sup­ported in part by fed­eral funds.

When the ad­min­is­tra­tion barred im­mi­grants from Mus­lim coun­tries, ruled that the vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence did not qual­ify for asy­lum, jeop­ar­dized the sta­tus of “Dream­ers” (un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who came to the United States as chil­dren) and sep­a­rated fam­i­lies at the bor­der, the bish­ops is­sued state­ments of op­po­si­tion. But while a few

in­di­vid­ual bish­ops and car­di­nals have spo­ken out more sharply, the con­fer­ence of bish­ops’ rhetoric has been softer, ex­press­ing mostly “dis­ap­point­ment,” “con­cern” or some­times “deep con­cern.”

Last June, when young chil­dren were torn from their moth­ers by bor­der agents, the leader of the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, Thomas Donahue, of­fered strong words: “[T]his is not who we are and it must end now.” But all the outrage the bish­ops could muster in their of­fi­cial state­ments was to call the gov­ern­ment di­rec­tive “con­trary to our Catholic val­ues” and “im­moral.”

On July 2, as thou­sands of chil­dren re­mained sep­a­rated from their par­ents even af­ter the pol­icy had been re­scinded, a del­e­ga­tion of bish­ops vis­ited a de­ten­tion cen­ter for boys in Brownsville, Texas.

The bish­ops said that re­uni­fi­ca­tion was an “ur­gent” prob­lem but stressed that the visit was pas­toral. “I’m not on a visit to in­dict,” con­fer­ence head Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo told the Catholic News Ser­vice.

Why is there no “Fort­night for Jus­tice” for im­mi­grants?

Why isn’t a del­e­ga­tion of bish­ops in Tijuana right now, sound­ing the alarm on the growing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, as the face-off be­tween U.S. troops and largely non­vi­o­lent asy­lum seek­ers be­comes more and more dan­ger­ous? Why haven’t the bish­ops done more to ed­u­cate, in­form and en­gage Catholics about the plight of im­mi­grants?

In part, it is be­cause of their own loss of moral au­thor­ity. This year, church lead­ers’ rep­u­ta­tions have been sul­lied as the sex abuse cri­sis tarred a num­ber of dio­ce­ses and even reached the ranks of U.S. car­di­nals. Many Amer­i­can Catholics are call­ing on all bish­ops to re­sign. In­deed, the sex abuse scan­dal side­lined im­mi­gra­tion dur­ing last month’s an­nual fall meet­ing of bish­ops.

Also, th­ese bish­ops rose to power be­cause they fell in line with the 1968 en­cycli­cal, “Hu­mane Vi­tae,” which af­firmed the church’s op­po­si­tion to ar­ti­fi­cial birth con­trol. The con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion split the U.S. church, si­lenced dis­senters and made agree­ment with the birth con­trol ban a “lit­mus test” for mov­ing up in the church hi­er­ar­chy. So this is­sue was per­sonal to the men in charge.

And fi­nally, there’s the po­lit­i­cal box the bish­ops cre­ated for them­selves. In 2016, the bish­ops made a po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion: They largely re­mained silent when pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump de­mo­nized im­mi­grants and promised to build a wall to keep them out, be­hav­ior that con­tra­dicted their own his­tory of ad­vo­cacy for im­mi­grants.

Af­ter all, Trump also promised to nom­i­nate an­tiabor­tion jus­tices to the Supreme Court and ex­pand “re­li­gious lib­erty.” Per­haps they thought can­di­date Trump was kid­ding when he ex­pressed, time and time again, his hos­til­ity to im­mi­grants. The bish­ops’ si­lence likely in­flu­enced the re­sults; 52 per­cent of Catholics voted for Trump.

Three days af­ter the elec­tion, the chair of the bish­ops’ com­mit­tee on mi­gra­tion felt it nec­es­sary to of­fer “mi­grant and refugee fam­i­lies ... our sol­i­dar­ity and con­tin­ued ac­com­pa­ni­ment as you work for a bet­ter life.” The bish­ops pledged to “pro­mote hu­mane poli­cies that pro­tect refugee and im­mi­grants’ in­her­ent dig­nity, keep fam­i­lies to­gether, and honor and re­spect the laws of this na­tion.”

The bish­ops got the Supreme Court of their dreams, and a new Trump rule that es­sen­tially ends that vex­ing con­tra­cep­tive man­date in Oba­macare.

They now know that Trump in­tends to keep all his pledges. Are the bish­ops trou­bled enough by the con­se­quences?

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