John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Catholic Church Weighs In on Immigration

Posted on August 22, 2013
Catholic woman holding a rosary

Catholic means universal.

That might be a bit ironic to some Protestants who always complain that they can’t take communion at Mass, but the universal part only applies if you decide you want to become Catholic.

The Catholic Church tries to make converts everywhere.   It is currently growing like gangbusters in places like Nigeria and Viet Nam.   Brazil has more Catholics than any other country.

The Catholic Church used to dominate in France, but a couple of World Wars, some existentialist thinking and some libertinism has emptied out the French Churches.

Islam is now growing faster in France than Catholicism, which has been losing parishioners for years.   The rise of the Muslim religion within that country has put the secularists who run the country into a tizzy, but what the French have discovered is that cynicism and skepticism are not winning religious beliefs.

The Catholic faith in America has grown through the years chiefly through immigration.  Catholics by and large don’t try to convert Baptists, for example.   Baptists don’t drink, they aren’t much fun and they don’t share the basic credo of the Catholic Church, which is universalism.

The Baptists are sola scriptura type people.  Give them the Good Book and that’s all they need to know to know that they are saved.  Catholics are more complicated.  They have a hierarchy, they have their communities, they have good works, they have confession, and they have pronouncements of the Holy Father.    They have pomp and circumstance and ritual.  As my Uncle Bob says, it might be a bunch of superstitious mumbo-jumbo, but then again, eternity is a long time.

Waves of Catholics have crashed upon the America’s.  It started in Maryland, where the first Catholics came, and then from Canada, where French Canadians wandered dawn, and then the Spanish in Florida and New Orleans, and then the Irish and the Germans and the Italians, and Polish and Czechs.

In later years, Mexicans and other Hispanics filtered up through South and Central America.  And Korean Catholics and Vietnamese Catholics started out West and eventually spread into communities big and small around the country.

All of these different ethnic groups started their own Churches, and for a decade or two or three (or more) many of those churches used their native tongues in between the Latin parts of the Mass.

There were German Catholic Churches in Milwaukee, Polish Catholic Churches in Chicago, Czech-Catholic Churches in Omaha, Italian Catholic Church in New York, Irish Catholic Churches in Boston, Mexican-Catholic Churches in Los Angeles

Eventually, the Irish and the Italians and Polish and Czechs and Germans and to a smaller extent, the Mexicans and Koreans all started to intermarry, as the old ethnic neighborhoods broke down and people started intermingling into the suburbs.

And as people left their neighborhoods, they sometimes left their churches behind.  That is the nature of things in America.

But the Catholic Church in America is still primarily an immigrant church.  It is still the place of worship for those new immigrants who look for a place that makes them comfortable, and for those whose great-grandparents first immigrated to this special country, who have been calling the Church home for generations.  .

So, it is not that surprising that the Catholic Church is weighing in on immigration reform.  According to a New York Times story today, “Catholic bishops and priests from major dioceses across the country will preach a coordinated message next month backing changes in immigration policy, with some using Sunday Masses on Sept. 8 to urge Congressional passage of a legislative overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.”

Good for them.

This is who the Church is and what the Church must become.

We need to fix our immigration system and we need to once again become the welcoming country that has greeted millions of people with the famous words etched at the base of the Statute of Liberty:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

For most of American history, most of the huddled masses were Catholic refugees, risking it all to find a better life on our sacred shores.

It is more than a bit embarrassing that the leading opponent of immigration reform and most strident voice in this debate is a Catholic.   I hope his Bishop has a direct and forceful conversation with him, not only about his position on the issue, but also about his most un-Catholic language about his fellow Catholics.

You can’t be a good Catholic if you spew hate about your fellow Catholics.

I hear a rumor that the new Pope will weigh in shortly on this public policy debate.   I think that would be very cool.