Catholic Bishops Confuse the Faithful on Immigration and Abortion

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By Christopher Manon earned a Ph.D., The Stream, June 18, 2018

Christopher ManionWhen America’s Catholic bishops met in Fort Lauderdale last week, their confab quickly turned into a political rally. Their target? President Donald Trump and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. The issue? Illegal immigration.

For years, our bishops have ardently supported amnesty for illegal aliens. In doing so they have often depicted their critics in language that is curiously lacking in two vital virtues — prudence and charity. For our shepherds, Americans who disagree with them are simply “nativists,” “racists,” “xenophobes,” and “bigots.”

The fact that President Trump has turned out to be the most pro-life president in recent history hasn’t dampened our bishops’ ire one iota. Some fifty million Catholics have left the pews since Vatican II. The Church is clearly in crisis. What is to be done? Or, to put it another way, “what do the bishops really want?”

A “Prophetic Statement” That Ignores Reality

If you take them at their word, their long-term goal is a “Next America.”

As many of our bishops see it, Trump stands in their way. So, in the face of popular support for the president’s enforcement of immigration law, they upped the ante in Fort Lauderdale.

As Joshua Gill reported last week, Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tuscon, Arizona, was as bitter as he was blunt. The bishops, he suggested, should consider making a “prophetic statement” — translated: a thinly-veiled threat — to impose “canonical penalties for Catholics who are involved in this.”

And what is “this”?

Some background: I have worked with Mexican immigrants for over fifty years. Here’s a little known fact: Illegal immigration is a business. In Mexico, criminal drug gangs, called “Coyotes,” charge some $5,000 a head to smuggle prospective customers across the U.S. border. Twenty years ago, most of those customers were adult men. They would work here as illegals, and wire money to their family back home. Under Obama, however, astute Coyotes recognized that the market was changing. Assuming that they survived the perilous journey, the customers who brought their children along had a better chance of being released by U.S. authorities if they were captured.

Good Intentions Over Common Sense

The Coyotes’ business model worked for years, and it would have continued under Hillary Clinton. But President Trump insisted on returning to the rule of law. Thus, families crossing the border illegally were detained.

But how to detain them? Our bishops insist that families be kept together. Attorney General Sessions has opted to put minor children in safe shelters while their parents — who have broken the law, we recall — are placed in adult facilities.

When it comes to immigration, our bishops rely on emotional good intentions, not common sense.

The bishops’ PR slogan is simple: “Children should not be separated from their parents!” The usual suspects on the left, always willing to steal a moral horse to ride, picked up the chant. Curiously, one of them was the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Apparently they believe that it’s only fair to separate children from their mothers before they’re born.

But whatever the motive, that feel-good assertion does not pass the reality test. I work in jail ministry for our parish. Many prisoners have wives and families whom they miss terribly. They pray for them fervently every week. It’s powerful. But the last thing they would want for their wife and kids would be for them to be thrown in with the other felons who populate our jail.

So when it comes to immigration, our bishops rely on emotional good intentions, not common sense.

Canon 915: Not Optional

Well, in spite of Bishop Weisenburger’s appeal to “prophecy,” they don’t rely on “canonical penalties,” either.

For Catholics, Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law requires, “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” (Bishop Weisberger misspoke: the refusal of admission is not a penalty, excommunication is). Moreover, the refusal is not optional but a binding duty, to be applied not only to those who have been excommunicated but also to “others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.” The good bishop properly observes that the refusal is for the “salvation of these people’s souls,” as well as to prevent public scandal.

Applying Canon 915 is not optional: it is a law that must be followed. So let’s take a look at how it is followed in Bp. Weisberger’s Diocese of Tuscon.

Tucson is represented in the U.S. Congress by Raul Grijalva. Rep. Grijalva is a Catholic. He has garnered a rating of 100 percent from the NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League). His advocacy of abortion is public, obstinate, persevering, and scandalous.

Why doesn’t Bishop Weisenburger publicly threaten to refuse Mr. Grijalva admission to the Eucharist?

Abortion Gets a Pass

Bishop Weisenburger is not alone. The problem is endemic. Countless American bishops refuse to apply Canon 915 to those who persevere in the manifest grave sin of supporting of murder of the unborn.

Consider the ten pro-abortion Catholics who are running for the U.S. Senate this fall. All of them are heartily endorsed by NARAL. How many of them were even mentioned by the Fort Lauderdale Bishops? None.

Those pro-abortion politicians didn’t even get a dirty look from our shepherds. Incumbents Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Bob Casey (D-PA) all got a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card.

Countless American bishops refuse to apply Canon 915 to those who persevere in the manifest grave sin of supporting of murder of the unborn.

The tenth entry on the pro-abortion list is Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), who is running to replace Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). O’Rourke also has a 100 percent approval rating from NARAL. In a very congenial conversation, he tells me that El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz has never criticized his pro-abortion position in public, even though they often appear together in pro-amnesty rallies.

Is Bishop Seitz just a private man? Hardly. Last year, in a nationally-syndicated column, he lashed out at ten Republican officials for their opposition to DACA, Obama’s unconstitutional diktat granting temporary amnesty to millions of illegal minors. Bp. Seitz branded these officials as “hypocrites” and “modern-day Pharisees.” He has never apologized.

A Crisis for the Church

Like Bp. Seitz, many other bishops ignore pro-abortion Catholic politicians, even though support for abortion is an objective evil. However, on complex political issues where good Catholics can disagree, the bishops pretend that their personal opinion is as binding as belief in the Trinity or the Resurrection.

In his opening address, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, who heads the national bishops’ conference, set the tone of the Fort Lauderdale meeting by attacking Trump. Why does he ignore the prospect that the pro-abortion O’Rourke might represent the pro-life Lone Star State in the U.S. Senate? Are DiNardo and Seitz so determined to defeat opponents of amnesty that they will quietly give a pass to pro-abortion victories?

What could lie behind the Fort Lauderdale bishops’ destructive effort to promote pro-abortion politicians by their silence? Do they fear that Trump will curtail the generous taxpayer funding they received under Obama? Are they afraid that preaching eternal truths will make them unpopular? Do they agree with Abp. José Gómez that Hispanics will make better Americans than the ones we have now?

They won’t say. But reality looms close by, whether they confront it or not. The Church is indeed in crisis, and she has powerful enemies. In times like these, bishops who appeal to the rule of law to protect marriage, the family, life, and religious liberty should think twice before continuing their cavalier defiance of the law. Perhaps they might recall Saint Thomas More. He would remind them that, when they destroy the law, the law will no longer be there to protect them — or us.


Christopher Manon earned a Ph.D. in government from Notre Dame University, and has taught in departments of Politics, Religion, and International Relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College. For many years he was the staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, chaired by the late Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

For 10 years, Christopher Manion was a weekly columnist and contributing editor at The Wanderer newspaper. He has been a contributing editor and music critic for Saturday Review and High Fidelity magazines, and his op-eds and book reviews have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Journal of Economic Development, the National Catholic Register,and Western Horseman.

He is on the boards of the American Foreign Policy Council and the Population Research Institute, founded by the late Rev. Paul Marx, and was a founding Fideicomisario (Trustee)  of Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. He is a Knight of Magistral Grace in the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta. He and his family reside in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.