In preparation for Pope Francis’ U.S. visit next month, many Democrats are attempting to enlist the Pope as an advocate for their vision of immigration reform.
“He’s been clear on our failure to respond appropriately to immigrants and refugees,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). “I don’t think anyone will have any doubt on where the church stands on immigration after the pope visits the United States.”
Advocates are reportedly hoping Francis will lend momentum to congressional immigration reform, where nearly a third of its members are Catholic. Several key members in leadership are Catholic, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-IL). Though they oppose Church teaching on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and provisions for religious liberty, they would like to see the Pope aid them in pushing for revised immigration laws.
“Whether it’s climate change or hunger or taking care of the poor, the Pope’s message is really the embodiment of what Catholic social teaching has been about, historically,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who traveled to Rome to witness the pope’s installation two years ago.
McGovern, one of 169 Catholics in Congress, who has consistently voted to expand abortion rights in opposition to the Church’s teaching, said that many Catholics might not be familiar with the church’s catechism that “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.”
Oddly, McGovern failed to cite the very next line from the Catholic Catechism, which in no way endorses an open borders approach to immigration:
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.
The Church’s insistence on the obligation of immigrants to respect the laws of the countries into which they wish to migrate, provides an important counterweight to a platform that merely emphasizes the rights of immigrants.
Illegal immigration has never been a part of Catholic teaching, and is not supported by Pope Francis, despite his encouragement of nations to be welcoming to those seeking political asylum or simply a better life.
Last year, the Pope called the surge of Central American children crossing the border into the United States a “humanitarian emergency” and in June spoke of the “tragic rise” of immigrants fleeing poverty in his encyclical letter on responsible stewardship for creation.
Kevin Appleby, the policy director on migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., said: “What we do know from his record is that it’s an issue close to his heart” and “one of the issues central to his papacy.”
In a message issued in August 2013 for last year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis wrote: “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity and should be accorded ‘their human dignity’ in the countries where they reside.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) is also a practicing Catholic and is the one responsible for inviting Pope Francis to address Congress.
Boehner has told reporters that he is looking forward to meeting the pope and hearing his speech, according to spokeswoman Emily Schillinger.
“It will be the first time a pope has visited our Capitol building and also the first time a Pope has addressed a joint session of Congress,” she said in a statement. “While we cannot predict his remarks, we expect he’ll discuss issues that are important to Americans from all walks of life and on both sides of the aisle.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome
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