One of the key demographics in the upcoming election is Catholics, especially in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The polls are all over the place, but several at least have suggested that Catholics support the pro-choice Hillary Clinton over pro-life Donald Trump. If that is true it is staggering, and a grave public scandal.
What’s driving my fellow Catholics away from the Church’s core teaching — that protecting innocent life comes first — and toward the party that opposes religious liberty and traditional marriage? Some observers suggest that the immigration issue is critical, and point to the non-stop politicking that too many American bishops are engaged in, supporting to a man the Democrats’ essentially open-borders platform. That stance is completely at odds with the Church’s official teaching on immigration (see below), so what is driving so many churchmen to make up a whole new teaching and foist it on U.S. Catholics?
I can’t read bishops’ minds. But I can read the sobering facts about the American Catholic church which make me skeptical of some bishops’ motives. Like everyone else, they are subject to original sin.
U.S. Catholic leaders gain enormously from the influx of millions of Latin Americans. They refill the emptying pews in our parishes — which are manifestly failing to pass along the Faith. In 2015, the Pew Study reported that a stunning 41 percent of adult American Catholics leave the Church at some point, most never to return. In other words, the native-born American Church is bleeding members, and Catholics would be diminishing quickly as a share of the U.S. population, were it not for a constant influx of Catholic immigrants. According to a subsequent report by Pew,
[M]ore than a quarter of U.S. Catholic adults (27%) were born outside the country, compared with 15% of U.S. adults overall; most of these Catholic immigrants (22% of all U.S. Catholics) are from elsewhere in the Americas. As of 2014, an additional 15% of Catholic Americans have at least one foreign-born parent. That leaves 57% of Catholics who were born in the U.S. to two native-born parents. By comparison, nearly three-quarters (74%) of American adults overall were born in the country to two U.S.-born parents.…
Without the mass immigration of Catholics who have not yet been subjected to the acid of our secular culture and the tepidness of our local church institutions, the Catholic Church in America would look much more like the Episcopal or Methodist church: a shrinking, aging organization with diminishing influence.
Aside from filling pews for one generation, and masking the free fall of Catholic faith in America, the influx of Catholic migrants also provides a significant source of revenue, through the tens of millions of dollars that agencies such as Catholic Charities and diocesan immigration outreaches receive from the taxpayer in the form of federal contracts. According to the 2014 Annual Report for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration Fund, church agencies received $85,506,950 in federal money for refugee resettlement — accounting for 97 percent of their budget. This federal money allows the bishops to present the Church as a much more significant source of private charity than it really is.
In other words, immigration covers bishops’ failures and boosts their sense of their own importance.
No wonder some bishops are shrill in their attacks on fellow Americans who differ with them on the most prudent immigration policy. In 2015, “conservative” Archbishop Charles Chaput gave a speech on immigration that tracked exactly with the positions of the Democratic Party and La Raza. Chaput defended birthright citizenship for children of illegals, opposed any deportations, and even condemned attempts to prefer skilled immigrants to the relatives of recently amnestied illegals. Chaput warned that opponents of illegal immigration play on “on our worst fears and resentments.”
Pope Francis has gone even further. In one speech, he compared opponents of the influx of millions of Muslim economic migrants to two biblical villains; Cain who murdered his brother, and Herod who ordered the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. Another time Francis said that if Donald Trump (a Protestant) supported a border wall he was simply “not a Christian.”
In stark contrast to such calumny is the sane and balanced teaching that appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. (2241)
But to what extent are we able to welcome newcomers? What about when immigrants flout their “duties”? When they break our immigration laws, commit identity theft, vote in foreign elections, or adhere to totalitarian political systems like sharia? These are questions for all citizens to answer, not the bishops of a single church.