Catholics across the country are now hearing their priests and bishops urging them to reform—not just their immortal souls, but immigration policy. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is promoting an extensive effort to persuade their congregations to back comprehensive immigration reform.
Although the Catholic Church has long supported pathways to citizenship and immigration reform, this campaign is, according to Kevin Appleby of the USCCB migration policy office, “taking it to another level.” When U.S. bishops work together on an issue, they wield a great deal of influence. They won’t convince every Catholic politician to take up immigration reform, but they are determined to try.
The USCCB migration office has compiled a bipartisan list of politicians to target, who they believe could be swayed by their appeals. Just this last week, hundreds of Catholics in Los Angeles, led by their auxiliary bishop, rallied outside the office of Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, asking him to drop his concentration on border security and support pathways to citizenship.
Bishops and priests were especially encouraged to deliver homilies last Sunday, right before Congress came back into session. Churches in at least 19 cities hosted pro-immigrant masses and events last Sunday, and many more will do the same in the coming weeks. Parishes will host pilgrimages and public forums, and bishops and other church officials will meet with House members.
This unusual effort to mobilize citizens from the pews reveals just how important this issue has become to the Church, which considers immigration a matter of human rights. In Boston, Cardinal O’Malley called the status of undocumented workers “the central moral issue at this moment in the policy debates.” The Catholic Church is currently a major provider of support services for immigrants, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network is the largest non-profit legal network for immigrants.
The USCCB is directing priests to their website, justiceforimmigrants.org, where priests can find policy background on immigration in America, and tips and suggestions for homilies.
On this site, the immigration “parish kit” recounts the story of the apostles speaking in tongues. (Acts 2:3) Although some wrote them off as drunk, each onlooker heard the gospel spoken in his own language. “Thus from the very beginning,” the kit pronounces, “the Church is 'catholic,' meaning 'universal.'”
Some politicians have already prepared their excuses for their pastor. Congressman Dan Lipinski, an Illinois Democrat, told the New York Times that “there are some issues that the church speaks authoritatively on, such as abortion…And then there are prudential judgments that are made, informed by Catholic theology, but it’s not something that Catholics are required to follow.” However, as Lipinski’s own words confess, “prudential judgment” never means that Catholics can do whatever they want—they’re still supposed to be guided by their church. In other words, Lipinski’s parish priest might not let him get away that easy.