Saturday, May 8, 2010

John Paul II and immigration- legal and illegal

John Paul II referred to the nations of South, Central and North America as "America", singular. What did he mean? In his Ecclesia in America: The Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation was he vying to be the poster child for "Open Borders". No, but he did expect Catholics to hear him as they think about immigration and international relations within this hemisphere.

During this immigration debate, Catholics, lay and ordained, would do well to read JPII. Some basic priorities need to be maintained. As disciples of Christ, our primary identity is the mission of the Church, not the destiny of the country. So we should begin our discussion somewhere far away from the Rio Grande, El Paso and Juarez. Good discipleship and good citizenship need not be incompatible, church and state need not be in conflict. But if there is no tension then we have to ask which institution is redundant and whether or not we are being faithful disciples of the One who didn't fit in all that well in the public debates of his day.

JPII did describe why he referred to America in the singular when describing this hemisphere:
"I asked that the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops reflect on America as a single entity, by reason of all that is common to the peoples of the continent, including their shared Christian identity and their genuine attempt to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and communion between the different forms of the continent's rich cultural heritage. The decision to speak of “America” in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the communion of all in the Lord."

He went on to discuss the problem of immigration:  I've emphasized some passages because they are apt to be lost in pontifical verbiage. [I don't know what it is about public pronouncements of church leaders that seems soporific. So make a special effort.]
In its history, America has experienced many immigrations, as waves of men and women came to its various regions in the hope of a better future. The phenomenon continues even today, especially with many people and families from Latin American countries who have moved to the northern parts of the continent, to the point where in some cases they constitute a substantial part of the population. They often bring with them a cultural and religious heritage which is rich in Christian elements. The Church is well aware of the problems created by this situation and is committed to spare no effort in developing her own pastoral strategy among these immigrant people, in order to help them settle in their new land and to foster a welcoming attitude among the local population, in the belief that a mutual openness will bring enrichment to all.
Church communities will not fail to see in this phenomenon a specific call to live an evangelical fraternity and at the same time a summons to strengthen their own religious spirit with a view to a more penetrating evangelization. With this in mind, the Synod Fathers recalled that “the Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration. (236)
I find it troubling but undeniable that just after the mention of "non-legal immigration", John Paul II describes how we should receive migrants- legal and illegal.
Migrants should be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church's life, always with due regard for their freedom and their specific cultural identity. Cooperation between the dioceses from which they come and those in which they settle, also through specific pastoral structures provided for in the legislation and praxis of the Church, (237) has proved extremely beneficial to this end. In this way the most adequate and complete pastoral care possible can be ensured. The Church in America must be constantly concerned to provide for the effective evangelization of those recent arrivals who do not yet know Christ. (238)
The rule of law is fundamental of course. I'm reading portions of John Finnis' Aquinas in the Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought series and there is no escaping "law as the primary proper means of coordinating civil society".

"[P]icking and choosing amongst the law's requirements will inevitably undermine the law's protection of rights and interests, except where the decision to disobey on some particular occasion is motivated by concern for some competing moral responsibility which just rulers would acknowledge as, in the common interest, fairly overriding their published law"" (Finnis, p. 272). 

I am assuming that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are crossing the border in pursuit of fulfilling a moral responsibility to better provide for their family. Consequently, I don't regard their trespass as some type of felony act which brands them as fundamentally criminal.

The CCC also speaks to the present debate:
2240: Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good makes it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country...(Rom 13:7)

2241: 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.

2242 The ciitzen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between God and serving the political community. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's "(Mt 22:21). "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29)

Both the rule of law and the Church's practice of hospitality are suffering during this debate.

One of the worst things about the current immigration mess is the disdain so many of us feel toward the executive and legislative branches of government for failing to properly enforce the law. Their failure implicitly teaches migrant workers that illegal immigration is no big deal.

Another negative consequence is that the Church's hospitality which extends beyond borders is being ignored by some Catholics and politicized by others. The consequence is a dimming and discrediting of the New Evangelization that John Paul II worked so diligently to promote.

Read the JPII apostolic exhortation on the Vatican website and ask if you are happy with the way the immigration debate sounds.


  1. 10% of Mexican Population in America :2006
    14% of Mexican Working force in America: 2006

    "The good news is that a million Mexicans were on the street recently demanding good jobs and good government and justice," Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told a recent panel at the American Enterprise Institute. "The bad news is they were marching in someone else's country. Every day, thousands of Mexico's most industrious people leave their families behind ... leading many to wonder why Mexico's political class is not capable of creating economic opportunity for its citizens in a land rich in mineral wealth, hydrocarbons, agricultural potential and human capital."


  2. RB2, I like these little factoids. Keep them coming.

    I won't presume, however, to know much about Mexico's political class since I can't get much of a beam on America's political class and why it's not "capable of creating economic opportunity for its citizens in a land rich in mineral wealth, hydrocarbons, agricultural potential and human capital."

    My primary concern in this debate is to ask how the Church can remain faithful to its mission of making Christ visible and calling people to him. I'm also interested as an American but believe that I help America best by helping the Church be the Church. My work is fundamentally catechetical and evangelistic.

    As I've said before, I thought that Cardinal Mahoney's description of the Arizona law as akin to Nazi and Communist technique impugned the good will of those trying to solve a serious problem. I also thought he squandered the Church's moral authority.

    On the other hand, those candidates (Bridgewater in Utah for one) who believe we should deport 11-18 million illegals can't expect me to take them seriously either.

    I don't think the American people will accept any solution which doesn't first secure the border. We haven't forgotten the promises of 1986.

    In the meantime what is the Church and its personnel and membership to do?

    Do you think that the average illegal immigrant's family would be better off if he/they stayed in Mexico and worked for political change?

    Given the futility of ensuring my family's future at the ballot box in America, I can only imagine the greater futility of doing it in Juarez.

    Scripture says, "If a man won't work, don't let him eat." What happens when a man can't find adequate work? Is he free to migrate to feed his family? Should the Church be active helping him fulfill his duty to provide for his family and eventually regularize his relationship with the state? Or should the Church function as an arm of law enforcement?

    (I assume here that illegal immigration is driven primarily workers imagining a better future for themselves and their families and not letting trespass laws keep them from providing for the member of the household. I know smugglers, Reconquista dreamers, deadbeats are all in the mix but I don't think they define this issue.)

  3. I dont think the Church has a role in the immigration debate. Whether the choice is to enforce the border and then provide amnesty or to create open borders or even to enforce workplace laws that keep illegals from being hired...neither is an unChristian choice. I find your elucidations on these matters as nothing more than stirring the pot....benignly so!

    Neither should the Church be involved or have an argument if I give $50 to charity or argue that it should be $100. The fact is charity has and is being demonstrated with regards to illegal aliens in this country, its all just a matter of degree and a reckoning on what the final adjucation should be.