Pope Francis’ imminent visit to America is being spun by secular media as a political bonus for Democrats. No one, it seems, expects the pope to deliver a speech prophetically denouncing the human organ trafficking of Planned Parenthood, the grave threats to religious liberty in America, or even the ethnic cleansing of Christians from the Middle East.
Instead, we are told that Pope Francis will emphasize his areas of agreement with the left over climate change, inequality, and immigration. If any congressmen are squirming in their seats, it is expected, it will be those prolife Catholic Republicans who differ with the pope on these latter issues.
As a Catholic, I still hold out hope that the pope will disappoint expectations, and speak up on subjects that are life-and-death, doctrinally clear, and rooted in genuine Catholic morality — rather than parroting the agenda of the secular, globalist left. But the actions of U.S. bishops in recent weeks are making it harder to hold on to that hope. Most sickening was the statement where Francis’ handpicked Archbishop Blaise Cupich of Chicago drew a moral equivalency between the butchery at Planned Parenthood and the inconveniences faced by illegal aliens, Medicaid recipients, and convicted killers. Cupich brazenly cloaked himself in the same “seamless garment” that his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Bernardin had crafted as a bulletproof vest for pro-abortion Catholic Democrats.
But it’s not just the bleeding edge of the Catholic left that feeds the secular media narrative. The widely-respected Abp. Charles Chaput, seen by many as the most conservative major Catholic prelate, recently delivered a speech on immigration that tracks exactly with the positions of the Democratic Party and radical immigrant activists groups such as La Raza. Chaput defended birthright citizenship for children of illegals, opposed deportations, and even condemned attempts to refine our legal immigration criteria to focus on skilled immigrants, rather than relatives of recently amnestied illegals. TV networks and Democratic candidates will eagerly feed on his remarks, in their ongoing effort to portray conservative Catholics as “dissenters” from “Catholic social teaching,” no purer in their religious allegiance than those who “dissent” from the Church’s teaching on selling baby limbs in medical waste coolers.
This narrative is entirely fictitious. Abp. Chaput’s remarks do not reflect real Catholic teaching on immigration — not the text of the current Catechism, nor the historic practice of Catholic countries, including the Papal States, on immigration. (To how many Muslims has the Vatican granted citizenship?) No more do Pope Francis’ speculations on the causes of inequality, or the vagaries of earth’s climate, have the slightest guarantee of religious authority. On all of these matters, popes and bishops are merely playing pundits, speaking beyond their proper authority and undermining it in the process.
That detailed, policy-specific “Catholic social teaching” from which conservatives allegedly dissent does not exist. It is a myth. The only authority that popes have is to pass on the deposit of faith given to the apostles, and clarify where needed the moral law as known by reason. When it comes to specific political applications of those principles, popes have wildly contradicted each other over the centuries, discrediting completely any claim that they represent a consistent “Magisterium” (teaching authority) on political issues. The papacy’s most obvious 180s took place on chattel slavery and religious freedom for non-Catholics. Pope Pius IX defended the morality of slavery, and condemned religious freedom. Pope John Paul II taught the opposite on both counts. Case closed.
So what must Catholics believe about immigration? The relevant section of the Catechism, drawn up under Pope John Paul II, is brief and reasonable. I will quote it in its entirety:
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. 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).
All the misty-eyed rhetoric bubbling up from Chaput and from Francis on the sufferings of immigrants and the “selfishness” and alleged “nativism” of conservatives on this issue founders on these words, “to the extent that they are able.” Well, that is what we are arguing about, now isn’t it? How many unskilled immigrants is the U.S. “able” to accept from Latin America, without unjustly endangering the interests of native low-skill workers — whose wages have been static for two generations? Or of working families who pay taxes to support the 73 percent of Latin American immigrant households receiving welfare? Or of unborn children, whom the same immigrants overwhelmingly (and in defiance of their stated religious faith) vote to leave at the mercy of Planned Parenthood?
To how many Muslim economic migrants can Europe offer asylum and cradle-to-grave welfare benefits, without unjustly harming its tens of millions of unemployed native citizens? How many potential jihadists is Europe “able” to safely welcome, so that they may attend radical, Saudi-funded mosques that preach the need for sharia in London, Brussels, and Rome? Pope Francis’s hysterical speech at Lampedusa seemed to suggest the answer: an infinite number. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls apparently agrees with him, this past week calling on Europe to accept 837 million mostly Muslim migrants. When elites so take leave of their senses, is it any surprise that candidates like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen seem reasonable by contrast?
Questions such as immigration totals, or welfare benefits, should not be decided by tax-exempt celibates who have never needed to balance a checkbook, support a family, or meet a payroll. They are issues for patriotic, tax-paying citizens to argue over rationally with a clear eye to the common good, and a “preferential option” for the poorest people in their own countries. Not the poorest people in the world, but their poorest fellow citizens — whose ancestors worked, fought, and in many cases slaved, to build those countries.
But laymen’s voices are the last thing that some prelates want to hear. Two faithful Catholic laymen, Michael Hitchborn and Michael Voris, this month raised serious questions about the president of the Vatican’s much ballyhooed World Meeting of Families. Robert Ciaruffoli is a longtime donor to rabidly pro-abortion Democrats, including the founder of a Planned Parenthood facility. Abp. Chaput, on whose watch Ciaruffoli was hired, did not thank Hitchborn and Voris for calling this scandal to his attention. Instead, following the same playbook that bishops blundered through in their catastrophic response to the sex abuse crisis, Chaput demonized the whistleblowers. He presumed to read their minds, claiming that their “sole intention is to create division, confusion, and conflict within the Church…. [W]e we are not going to spend/waste time arguing with them.”
One wonders whether Archbishop Chaput would have reacted the same way if a left-wing group had discovered that a leading official of a worldwide Catholic meeting had donated to immigration control groups.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have several clear conflicts of interest on the subject of immigration, which completely negate their claim to the moral high ground. First, they are eager to refill the emptying pews in our parishes. Clearly, our bishops have proven unable to pass along the Faith in their schools and churches. The Pew Study just reported that a shocking 50 percent of native-born American Catholics leave the church at some point, most never to return. Without the constant influx of newcomers who have not yet encountered the likes of the “Nuns on the Bus,” the Catholic share of the U.S. population would be plummeting, instead of slowly shrinking. Second, the U.S. bishops collect tens of millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded programs to resettle those immigrants, which sluice through misnamed organizations like Catholic Charities, which in fact mostly act as federal contractors dispensing public money.
Secure the borders, and two things happen: Catholic parishes will be forced to sink or swim, to evangelize and catechize the children of American Catholics, without the constant human subsidy of millions of Catholics who haven’t yet been confused and alienated by the state of the American Catholic Church. And bishops will see their budgets shrink by tens of millions of dollars, as “charities” have to rely on the willing donations of laymen, instead of tax money that has been collected from them by force and handed over to the bishops.
Both developments would be healthy for the American church, and for the poorest American citizens.
John Zmirak is author of six books on Catholicism, including The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism.