Why Are Catholic Bishops Funding Advocacy For Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

The Catholic bishops of the United States have put the power of funding behind their efforts to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.

In March of 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which is the domestic anti-poverty agency of the U.S. bishops, approved special grants totaling nearly $1 million “to mobilize Catholics on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform and to prepare Catholic institutions for the prospects of reform legislation.”

According to the USCCB website, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, the chairman of the CCHD subcommittee, announced the grants after the bishops determined that “swift action by the Catholic community was essential in advancing the recently emerging prospects for immigration reform. CCHD has taken significant steps to contribute in a swift and meaningful way to this most important national conversation.”

Bishop Soto said:

There is an urgent need to mobilize resources efficiently in order to meet the challenge when the possibility for real immigration reform has never been closer. With these grants, CCHD is poised to make a significant difference in a way consistent with our mission and identity. The efforts supported are rooted in Catholic social teaching about the dignity of the human person and reflect our deep ties to generations of immigrants who have come to America. These grants represent a distinctively Catholic contribution in promoting comprehensive immigration reform. They will strengthen the capacity of our institutions to help immigrant families come out from the shadows and participate more actively in American society.

Catholics often are asked to contribute to CCHD in “special second collections” during Masses and in the bishops’ annual appeal drives.

The CCHD, in particular, has been the focus of significant controversy in recent years since the Reform CCHD Now (RCN) coalition, of which the pro-life American Life League is a member, has worked to promote its reform after discovering that dozens of its grantees promote activities contrary to Catholic teaching.

LifeSiteNews reported that Bishop Soto responded to reports that CCHD monies were being granted to organizations that advocate for positions that are against the doctrines of the Church:

Despite significant progress, some things don’t change. The American Life League continues to attack CCHD and the USCCB. ALL continue[s] to recycle allegations that CCHD funds many organizations that are in conflict with Catholic teaching. They simply do not agree with CCHD’s mission and how we apply our guidelines and requirements.

As an issue that is generally promoted by left-leaning political groups, immigration reform recently became tangled in the Church’s CCHD funding process.

On July 29th, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was sharply criticized in an open letter in the Chicago Tribune by eight Catholic Democrats who charged him with a threat to withhold CCHD funding from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), a group that had recently endorsed same-sex marriage, which is against the teachings of the Catholic Church. ICIRR had been receiving between $25,000 to $30,000 per year through CCHD funding.

LifeSiteNews reported George’s response to the criticism from the Catholic Democrats:

Donors to the CCHD give to this anti-poverty organization with the understanding that their money will be passed on to organizations that respect the teachings of the Catholic faith. Organizations that apply for funds do so agreeing to this condition.

To provide further insight into the bishops’ advocacy for immigration reform, Breitbart News interviewed Brad Miner, Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing, a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. Miner is the author of six books and a former Literary Editor of National Review.

Breitbart News:  The bishops have used some demagoguery of those Americans who support secure borders and enforcement of current immigration laws. For example, Archbishop José Gomez, an outspoken advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, has used the term “nativist” to describe those Americans who have expressed concern about Mexicans’ resistance to assimilate into American culture. Other Catholic religious have said these same Americans are “fearful.

Brad Miner: It is interesting, isn't it, that on this issue especially the bishops give vent to clearly leftist jargon in referring to opponents of open borders. Speaking just for myself, I'm a poor excuse for a nativist. And when anybody stoops to such characterizations, it's almost always indicative of a weakness in their arguments. Why else demonize those who dissent? In various documents (A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration, for instance) the bishops speak of the rule of law and of national security, but any practical approaches to enforcement are deemed xenophobic. As I keep saying: What is un-Christian about a visa?

Further on the question of enforcement: the bishops seem to me to be falling victim to the society-wide fragmentation along lines of self-interest. I haven't a quote at hand, but I can promise you the bishops criticized the Obama Administration's refusal to enforce DOMA. Consistency with regard to the rule of law should lead them to call for enforcement of every provision of the 1986 law, even as they seek reform in any new law. Their failure to do so is among the things (along with the rhetorical flourishes of Archbishop Gomez) that make me question their motives.

Breitbart News: Cardinal George recently declined aid to an Illinois Immigration Advocacy Group because they came out in favor of same-sex marriage. Some other bishops have not been cautious about undermining Catholic doctrinal positions. For example, the USCCB gave nearly $1 million of church donations collected through CCHD to fund actual political advocacy for immigration reform. Organizations like CCHD and Catholic Relief Services have been surrounded by controversy about which groups receive that money. What about these controversies? Should the bishops be political activists for a non-doctrinal issue like immigration reform?

Brad Miner: I think Cardinal George was right. But opposition to SSM is an unambiguous doctrine in the official Church. Immigration is different. The fact that the CCHD money was on its way to an immigration advocacy group is irrelevant. Had the group in question been an anti-abortion organization, the cardinal may well have pulled funding from them too.

Should the bishops have political positions? Should Cardinal Dolan jet down to D.C. to confab with POTUS? Those are questions not easily answered. After all, it would seem bizarre were Church leaders silent on life issues. And yet . . . it's questionable that the USCCB, a Washington-based organization, has any real influence on law or policy. I will always believe their fundamental duties and the key to effectiveness in influencing law and policy is in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the kind of catechetical work that would make clear to American Catholics what the Church does and does not condone. As long as Biden, Pelosi, Sebelius, et al. are allowed to misrepresent Church teaching without ecclesiastical censure, the bishops will lose in the public square. Why? Because the Church and its teaching will become just more choices in the Great Cafeteria of Individualism.

Breitbart News: Is the motivation behind the bishops’ advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform the fact that the Church is losing Hispanics to Evangelical Protestantism?

Brad Miner: In "Why the Catholic Bishops Are Wrong on Immigration" that's exactly the position I take. 

Much of the Catholic teaching USCCB sites in support of its position on immigration comes from documents of the post-WWII period and concern about the plight of displaced persons, stateless refugees, whether Catholic or Jewish or whatever. But the current American situation is different. The immigrants from Central America are not refugees -- not unless you abuse the meaning of the word. 

To take just the Mexican example, the government there actively encourages the exodus (even providing guides to help immigrants cross the border illegally), because they'd rather have the U.S. manage Mexico's welfare burden. And because it is in their interest to be lax on their side of the border and because we are lax on our side, both sides must treat the profounder security issues as right-wing fantasies. Obama is especially good at this in everything to do with foreign policy. The U.S. and Mexico, with the USCCB in a kind of amicus curiae role, become the three monkeys: seeing no evil, hearing no evil, speaking no evil.

And in the matter of the Catholic migration to Protestantism . . . I cite the data in my column. It's real, and nobody has shown me convincing arguments why that apostasy won't continue among immigrants in the U.S. And this is the same problem at heart that I mentioned earlier: poor catechesis. The Church (except where it is itself truly evangelical, as in Africa and Asia) is losing its power to hold onto believers, because too much accommodation has been made with secular culture and too little attempt has been made to preach the Gospel and teach the tenets of the faith. Any Catholic who goes to church and studies the Catechism and reads the Fathers and knows Catholic understands knows that this is true. 

If the bishops aren't effective in this regard, they'll be ineffective in everything else.


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