By now, everyone has either seen, heard, or read something about Steve Bannon’s 60 Minutes interview where he makes the following claim about the Catholic Church’s stance on immigration.
CHARLIE ROSE: I remind you, a good Catholic, that Cardinal Dolan is opposed to what’s happened with DACA. Cardinal Dolan.
STEVE BANNON: The Catholic Church has been terrible about this.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK.
STEVE BANNON: The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? You know why? Because unable to really– to– to– to come to grips with the problems in the Church, they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s– it’s obvious on the face of it. That’s what– the entire Catholic Bishops condemn him.
CHARLIE ROSE: They?
STEVE BANNON: They have– they have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration. And as much as–
CHARLIE ROSE: –that’s a tough thing to say about your church.
STEVE BANNON: As much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the Bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all.
Now, this probably doesn’t come as much of a shock, but I disagree. And strongly. Unfortunately, there are droves of people across the country who likely share the same opinion—or some form of it.
Starting with the Catechism…
What The Church Actually Teaches About Immigration
Before going fully into the why, let’s take a brief moment to make sure we all understand exactly *what* the Church teaches regarding immigration.
“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. Catholic Catechism, 2241.
Furthermore, the U.S. Catholic Bishops, in 2003, released the pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope”, which stresses:
[w]hen persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.” No. 35
The Bishops also make it clear that they oppose “enforcement only” policies and support true immigration reform. They go on to provide a fairly comprehensive list of reforms that would be in line with Catholic Social Justice, such as earned legalization, worker and family based programs, and the restoration of due process of undocumented immigrants.
Additionally, Pope Francis has been an avid advocate for immigrants, saying that in the face of immigration, our shared response should be “articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.
To put it simply, while the Church recognizes—and even encourages—nations to hold and enforce responsible immigration laws, we’re obligated to welcome, not shun, the immigrant, and provide them with shelter, protection, and a simple, respectful path to citizenship.
Now let’s talk about why.
The Dignity and Sanctity of Life
In order to truly understand the Church’s stance on immigration, we have to understand the Church’s stance on social justice and the dignity of the human being.
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end.” Catechism 2258
Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims. Catechism 1930
Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother. Catechism 1931
The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Catechism 1932
To sum it up, because we are made and loved by God, we all posses a certain, intrinsic dignity. Additionally, we have an obligation to one another to respect, promote, and protect that dignity on both a personal and public level. This is essentially the central component to Catholic Social Teaching..
It is at this point that we have a fundamental breakdown between the teachings of the Church and the opinions of people like Steve Bannon.
You see, the Church’s stance on immigration flows from its beliefs about the dignity and sanctity of human life. And since that dignity is, as the Catechism states, prior to society, the Church, when forced to make a choice, will choose the rights of the immigrant over anything else, every time.
You can cry about your taxes, scream about nationalism, and spread all the lies you want about immigrants and crime. You can make the most impassioned argument about immigrants stealing your job, and you can even stand on your head about terrorists sneaking into the country. It doesn’t make a difference.
None of the excuses above are rooted in the fact that the immigrant is a child of God, made in his image, sacred and full of dignity, and in possession of the same universal rights as you or me.
This is why the Church supports and elevates the rights of immigrants. This is why we have been so “terrible” about immigration reform. It’s not for economic reasons, nor is it to fill the pews. It’s because we recognize the innate, God give dignity of all humans. Therefore, we are obligated to welcome them to the fullest extent possible.