Beliefs Ethics Institutions Politics

Catholic leaders to House abortion foes: Immigration reform is also ‘pro-life’

Immigration reform supporters pray and sing in both English and Spanish outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday night (Nov. 12, 2013), calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

(RNS) More than 100 Roman Catholic leaders are using this week’s annual march against legal abortion to press anti-abortion House members to pass immigration reform, saying they should see it as another “pro-life” issue.

“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child,” the signers say in a letter sent Wednesday (Jan. 21) to two dozen Catholic members of the House of Representatives who are vocal abortion opponents.

Immigration reform supporters pray and sing in both English and Spanish outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday night (Nov. 12, 2013), calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

Immigration reform supporters pray and sing in both English and Spanish outside the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 12, 2013, calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

The letter, organized by the Washington-based progressive advocacy group Faith in Public Life, is expected to be published as a full-page ad in Politico on Thursday.

That’s the day tens of thousands of demonstrators — including some of the House members the statement addresses — are expected to gather in Washington to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, an annual display of passionate anti-abortion sentiment and political muscle.

The statement pointedly cites Pope Francis’ views that immigration woes and economic inequality are threats to life along with abortion, and it appears to be another example of the so-called Francis effect that is recasting the nation’s culture war by shifting the debates onto a broader terrain.

In fact, one of the signers is Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University and a longtime abortion opponent who advises the U.S. bishops on moral and legal issues related to the family.

Two retired bishops are also among the signers, along with the Rev. Larry Snyder, head of Catholic Charities USA, and more than 31 Catholic university presidents. Numerous nuns active in social justice work and theologians and academics are also represented.

The letter notes that at a Mass celebrated at the U.S.-Mexico border last year, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called immigration “another pro-life issue.” O’Malley will also take part in Thursday’s protest march against the Roe v. Wade decision.

This recasting of the Catholic agenda began almost as soon as Francis was elected in 2013 and has continued to pick up speed as the pope keeps highlighting a range of issues as threats to life, including climate change.

But the rebalancing has upset many conservative Catholics who were used to viewing opposition to abortion — and, increasingly, opposition to gay marriage —  as public policy issues that trumped all other concerns. They had also seen previous popes, as well as the U.S. hierarchy, as allies in that approach, and they see the pope’s focus on social justice and the environment as favoring liberal agenda items.

That sets up an intriguing dynamic in light of Francis’ planned visit to the U.S. in September, his first.

The pope this week confirmed that he would be visiting Philadelphia, New York and Washington, probably from Sept. 22-27. Some of his most high-profile events could be in the nation’s capital, where he is expected to meet President Obama at the White House; Francis may also become the first pope to address a joint session of Congress.

Francis’ approach may discomfit Republicans as much as Democrats, who are used to being on the receiving end of most critiques from Catholic officials.

Wednesday’s letter, for example, targeted mainly Catholic Republicans, who are the chief foes of legal abortion. But Republicans who control the House (and now the Senate as well) have also been the ones blocking comprehensive immigration reform, which the U.S. bishops hoped would pass.

The USCCB has praised the controversial executive actions Obama took to protect immigrants in the absence of a broader reform package, and Republicans emboldened by their election victories in November have already moved to reverse those executive orders and crack down on immigrants.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, is among those who supported a Jan. 14 measure to cut off funding for Obama’s immigration actions. One of the signers of this week’s letter is the president of Boehner’s alma mater, Jesuit priest Michael J. Graham of Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Another prominent Catholic Republican, Steve King of Iowa, made waves on the immigration issue when he called a 20-year-old Latino student from Dallas who was chosen to sit with the first lady during Tuesday’s State of the Union address a “deportable.”

The letter from Catholic leaders to House members said “delay and partisan bickering will only lead to more hardship, suffering and death.” It took aim at Republican tactics by declaring that the immigration crisis “will not be solved by threats to shut down government agencies, enforcement-only strategies or piecemeal approaches.”

“Breaking up immigrant families and denying protection to those fleeing gang or cartel violence, as just one example, is neither a humane or effective strategy,” it says. “Comprehensive immigration reform that would create an earned path to citizenship for those in the shadows, expedite family reunification, strengthen refugee protection, address why desperate people reluctantly uproot and cross borders, deserves a vote now.”

YS/MG END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

6 Comments

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  • Unfortunately for those Catholic leaders, conservatives only care about religious dogma if you can use it to justify restrictions to civil liberties, not expand them.

    Immigration reform discussions have proven that bigotry and hysteria are far greater forces for motivating conservative voters and politicians than appeals to faith. It is a great issue for motivating voters out of fear and demonizing a group who wouldn’t come bite them on the behind at the polls.

  • Abortion and homosexuality seem to get much of the focus but what about
    other sins like getting drunk and coveting/greed which are both listed right
    along with homosexuals in 1 Corinthians 6:9-12. Ephesians 5:18 says don’t
    get drunk! 1 Corinthians 6:10 says that all drunkards go to hell which also
    includes people who get drunk with wine cause the wine Jesus made was
    diluted and the Bible also says don’t get drunk with strong wine! John 2:10
    says the cheap wine was brought out last so the best for last refers to the
    poorer/watered down/diluted wine/Bible says don’t get drunk on strong wine!

    Most sleep around/have premarital sex then get married thinkin that covered
    it up but never Repent or agree that sleepin around/premarital sex is wrong!
    Jesus said that you are one of Mine only if you still continue in My teachings
    and follow Me! It’s not enough to just believe in Jesus. We must follow Him!

    Getting drunk,gambling,gossip,jealousy,coveting/greed/sexual immorality in
    any form/premarital sex/sleeping around/adultery,being mean and then the
    person laughs after like that makes it all okay/sharp tongues all are wrong
    along with pride also taking the Lords name in vain,slandering and jealousy.

    All sins are bad and need to be talked about/confronted not just abortion or
    homosexuality. 1 Corinthians 5 and also Luke 13 both need to be taught
    because Jesus said many will say to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven!
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved! We all must Repent!

  • Two retired bishops are also among the signers, along with the Rev. Larry Snyder, head of Catholic Charities USA, and more than 31 Catholic university presidents. Numerous nuns active in social justice work and theologians and academics are also represented.

    In other words, no one with any actual followers and almost no one with a demonstrable commitment to the Catholic faith. If they had such, they would not be in charge of any quondam Catholic scam-the-alumni operations, which is what the vast majority of Catholic institutions are.

    And, of course, it’s perfectly non sequitur to draw an analogy between the defense of life and regimes in immigration law. It’s just that immigration law is what these phonies wish to discuss. The rest is chaff.

  • “And, of course, it’s perfectly non sequitur to draw an analogy between the defense of life and regimes in immigration law. ”

    For once, I can entirely agree with you on this one. The two are not related in any way.

    The Anti-choice stance is about attacking the dignity of people and showing indifference to them in favor of religious dogma and hysteria. Immigration reform (as seen by the religious types of many sects and faiths) is about showing concern and compassion in line with religious belief.

  • It takes a little time – but America turns religious immigrants into Atheists.

    It doesn’t matter if they are Islamic, Catholic or Protestant.
    Within one generation they start doing secular things:
    adopting contraception, dating outside the ‘faith’, noticing so many other religions…etc.

    It is great that more Catholics are coming to America. 🙂
    Bring ’em on over!

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