Render Unto Bishops

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The proper configuration of immigration law is clearly a matter on which Catholics can disagree. But one would never know that from the recent pronouncements of the United States bishops.

What they call on their web page the "Catholic Church's position on Immigration Reform" is not orthodox teaching but tired left-wing clericalism.

Blurring the line between real Church teaching and personal political opinions disguised as Church teaching undermines both orthodoxy and unity. But clericalist bishops don't seem to care. They like that blurred line, as it allows them to play lobbyists for their pet political causes, from global warming to gun control to amnesty.

It is a scandal that the U.S. bishops feel entitled to use the faithful's money to put together propaganda campaigns for disputed policy prescriptions. Were those policy prescriptions Republican rather than Democratic, liberals would be the first to object and bemoan the insidious influence of "religion in politics." Imagine if the USCCB had a web page called and offered a "parish kit" that explains the "Catholic Church's position on tax reform." And what if it proposed an "intercessory prayer"(as it did for "immigration reform") for the passage of a Flat Tax act? The cries of "clericalism" would be resounding.

But for what amounts to advancing the cause of amnesty, the bishops feel no qualms about using the faithful's money to supply parishes with tools of propaganda, such as a "sample homily on migration related issues from Cardinal McCarrick," which "may provide some insights on creating a homily related to immigration."

Bishops who can't even bring themselves to withhold Communion from abortion advocates lash out at "opponents of immigration" venomously, speaking of them as if they are apostates. By "opponents of immigration," the bishops mean Americans who support existing law. What is contrary to Church teaching about that stance? Since when has opposition to illegal immigration constituted a sign against "justice for immigrants"?

Hectoring the American people about clinging too tightly to the rule of law seems an odd exercise of the Church's moral authority. If anyone is on shaky ground in the illegal immigration debate, it is the Cardinal Mahonys who encourage the breaking of just laws. What exactly is holy about that?

The irony is that the same bishops who won't criticize Caesar when he is wrong will criticize him when he is right. Securing borders falls within the authority of Caesar. For the bishops to treat the performance of that legitimate duty as evidence of injustice does nothing to aid the advance of the Church's teaching on the natural law.

At the very least, the bishops could temper their clericalism by acknowledging that supporters of existing law and secure borders hold a defensible view. Instead, they act like Democratic partisans who use sophistries and motive-mongering to shut down debate. It serves the political needs of the moment to cast opposition to their lobbying as opposition to "immigrants." But that is completely dishonest. Does disagreeing with the bishops on something as technical and complicated as "earned citizenship" really make one less understanding of the true nature of justice? Is a Catholic "anti-immigrant" if he favors, say, legal residency rather than legal citizenship? There is no "Catholic teaching" on the precise form of a state's regulation of legal immigration, much less its handling of illegal immigration.

The specificity of their demands makes their clericalism look even more ludicrous. The other day leading bishops were urging that the already liberal immigration bill currently under consideration in the Senate be made even more liberal. It has too many "restrictions," said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Bishops have neither the authority nor the expertise to descend into the details of policy like that. By doing so, they just weaken the perception of their authority where it does exist. The Church in America appears to be gravitating back to the "Seamless Garment," the attempt by clericalists in the 1980s to lump half-baked liberal opinions on trendy topics in with the Church's official teachings. Out of that confusion came a stream of inane statements on subjects the bishops knew little to nothing about. This had the effect of making all the Church's pronouncements look like feeble opining.

A glimpse of the garbled message to which Seamless Garment-style clericalism leads could be seen in Cardinal Sean O'Malley's recent remarks after the Boston bombings. "The individualism and alienation of our age has spawned a culture of death. Over a million abortions a year is one indication of how human life has been devalued. Violent entertainment, films and video games have coarsened us and made us more insensitive to the pain and suffering of others," he said. "The inability of the Congress to enact laws that control access to automatic weapons is emblematic of the pathology of our violent culture."

So a million-plus abortions a year is "one indication" of a violent culture and another is the failure of a specific piece of gun-control legislation backed by the USCCB to pass. Can't the bishops see how this dilutes the Church's teachings? Can't they see that in their desperate craving for political relevance they make the Church's most important contribution to politics, the transmission of natural-law orthodoxy, irrelevant?

Clericalism ends up dogmatizing personal opinions and relativizing dogmas, making the Church just one more forgettable voice in the din of public life.

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