Citizenship, Localism, and Catholicism

Devon, PA. For months now, I have been sitting on an incomplete draft of a series of essays on “Localism and the Universal Church,” wherein I seek to show that the commitment of myself and many Catholics to the small platoons of family, parish, and county derives directly from my commitment to the One, Holy, Apostolic — and Universal — Church.  It was a delightful project to undertake, and I am looking forward to seeing how some FPR readers greet its claims.  But . . .

But . . . it becomes awfully hard to make such a claim, and to make it persuasively, when the USCCB (the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) raises some its most vocal support in favor immigration and citizenship policies that trivialize a country’s sovereign right in these matters. reports,

The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging priests across the nation to “incorporate petitions, prayers and homilies” into Sunday Masses on September 25 in support of passage of the DREAM Act. The bill, first introduced in 2001, would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.

The Justice for Immigrants campaign has also issued an invitation to “plan a vigil or public event between Sept. 18 – Oct. 9 in support of our DREAM students and youth” and offers a “sample agenda and elements of a powerful event” to assist in planning.

The argument of the campaign is not implausible: many children are brought to the United States illegally by their illegal-immigrant parents.  Through no fault of their own, they have been raised in a foreign country in which they have no legal right to dwell.  In such cases, it may indeed be a matter of prudence to allow such children, as they enter adulthood, a path to remaining in the United States.  The DREAM Act provides such a path through college education or military service.  If it may be prudent, it is certainly not a matter of justice.  But Justice for Immigrants is the very name of the Bishops’ campaign.

As apostles of the Universal Church, Catholic bishops do indeed have a responsibility to provide pastoral care to every human being in their respective diocese; and, in many diocese, that includes a swelled and swelling number of illegal aliens.  As I wrote years ago, the threat of immigration laws that would make the demands of charity a crime are frankly unjust: a Christian has an obligation to the practice of charity, and priests and bishops in particular have a responsibility to see to the care of the souls of the strangers who walk among us; from ancient times, the Church has recognized this responsibility extends especially to the immigrant (See the quotation from St. Justin Martyr in Catechism of the Catholic Church 1351).  This basic obligation in charity in no way challenges the authority of states to control immigration or determine criteria for citizenship.

But programs like this patently encourage the continued growth of a demimonde of fragmented ethnic cultures and shadow citizenships.  In conflating a possibly prudent policy with their pastoral responsibilities in charity, the US Bishops seem to pervert the very meaning of justice in claiming it for the DREAM act and in implicitly suggesting that the upholding of present law, and the sovereign act of a state to protect borders and determine citizenship, is somehow unjust.  This appears in violation of Church teaching and the Bishops’ own past statements (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2241).   Just as the Church has an irreducible obligation to pastoral care in charity, any state has an obligation to control and delimit citizenship as part of its irreducible responsibility to establish justice.  Thus, the Bishops’ position sounds more like a childish tit-for-tat rather than an intelligible argument about the nature of justice.

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