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Prophetic, Priestly, & Kingly Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 21 March 2011

Deo volente, I will speak this afternoon at a panel sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic University of America about the Church’s role in immigration. The organizers of such events are well-intentioned and, contrary to what critics of the bishops’ conference think, often seek diverse voices.

They rarely hear them, however, because, except in pro-life discussions, social conservatives are typically token participants. And so avoid these events. It’s an uncomfortable and usually fruitless task, but someone has to do it.

I’ve written on immigration before, which is close to my daily life. My wife’s family, Catholic Slavs rounded up and taken to Nazi work camps, escaped and later immigrated – legally, and at considerable cost and trouble. She teaches in a Catholic school that is predominantly Hispanic, most of the families illegals.

Despite her experiences of being young in an alien culture and language, there’s a visceral reaction for her – and many other Americans – that it’s simply wrong to treat illegals lightly. And they believe that since the law has been broken, such immigrants are not “undocumented.” “Social justice” arguments cut the other way for them. How is it just to treat illegals like American citizens or legal immigrants or like people who have only transgressed some minor regulation, like a traffic violation? Or to give the children of illegal immigrants, blameless though they may be, full social benefits?    

All true, and at the same time, it’s clear that you cannot deport 10 or 20 million people. It’s never happened absent a Stalin or Mao. America is a nation of immigrants, and will never, despite the talk, go down that road. So we need to find a way – demanding, even somewhat harsh, forget “DREAM” acts – that will regularize those now here and deter others from breaking the law in the future.

The Church can help in the transition in three ways: prophetic, priestly, and kingly. I know it’s unusual to use Biblical categories rather than policy wonk approaches on public issues, but bear with me.


        We need to encourage citizenship and discourage illegality.

Prophetic: The Church is playing on its home field when it opposes un-Christian cultural elements. As Cardinal George has argued, all cultures have demonic and angelic aspects. About Hispanic immigration in particular – the real subject of immigration reform – the Church has to be careful, however, about being prophetic or countercultural, “be orator/ but with an accurate tongue,” as the poet Wallace Steven put it.

For instance, the Church has repeatedly warned us to “welcome the stranger among us.” But America already does, legally and in large numbers. Since 2000 we’ve averaged well over a million immigrants per year, illegal and not, and we’re annually granting permanent resident status to 1.25 million. Naturalization rates, according to Pew surveys, have risen sharply in recent decades. Hardly evidence of a xenophobic nation. So we should beware of the “prophet motive” and easy sermonizing about welcoming the stranger. Most Americans already agree, but don’t like being lectured about what they regard as an essentially legal issue.

Similarly, the Church should be wary of playing the race card. Is there anti-Hispanic prejudice in America? Of course. Is it a major factor in immigration controversies? Not really. The problem is mostly cultural; people dislike crime, disorder, exploiting the system, etc. by illegals. But the real tension involves the sheer numbers of new Hispanics. Ethnic tensions have appeared – and happily dissipated – in our past. But being prophetic about respecting people’s cultures should include recognizing that we have a culture, too. And Americans may justly feel threatened or disoriented by out-of-control challenges to a way of life.

Priestly: Which brings us to the priestly. Pastoral concern for all persons, something Catholics deeply understand, necessarily includes those already here. It’s telling that this even has to be said. No nation will go to Heaven or Hell. But there’s something sacred in historic human communities. We are bound by our laws, including rules about citizenship and crossing our borders. But we are also bound by a particular sense of belonging to one another. The Church has too long regarded nationality as a kind of disease, when in fact it’s a natural human thing to cluster around language and culture, and a real good, so long as we recognize that others are attached to their cultural forms. Prophets call the culture to account, but priests place a sacred canopy over it in ways helpful to national solidarity.

Kingly: Unlike some evangelicals, Catholics are a Church not a sect, i.e., Catholicism believes in engaging all of society. Being kingly, translated into modern idiom, means understanding the importance of the common good. And the keystone to the common good in a pluralistic society is the rule of law.

This may sound harsh to Church people who believe in the law of love, but love in a social framework is best served by the rule of law. Frankly, the Church is in a good position to teach Hispanic immigrants, who have often suffered under unjust systems, about a proper respect for and trust in institutions. Machine politics, unions, and Catholic parishes did that for earlier generations of immigrants. It’s a lesson worth retrieving. But to do it effectively, you have to value assimilation. And sadly, for good and bad reasons, that’s in some dispute now.

Since law is central to immigration questions, the Church needs to be shrewd in how it responds to legal developments. Cardinal Mahony – unwisely, I think – denounced Arizona’s immigration law as Nazism, for example, and called for civil disobedience – in other words, further breaking of the law. Popular in Los Angeles, perhaps, but the right move for a debatable question in Catholic social teaching? Abortions take human life, yet the hierarchy has not notably advocated widespread civil disobedience over that. Americans, Catholics and not, draw conclusions from such behavior.

Prophetic, priestly, kingly – demanding, but Christ never said it would be easy. And if Catholics don’t do it, who will?


Robert Royal
is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by J, March 21, 2011
'Unlike some evangelicals, Catholics are a Church not a sect, i.e., Catholicism believes in engaging all of society.'
I suppose this is predicated on the typology of
Ernst Troeltsch? That's a strange way for a Catholic to deal with ecclesiology. The Church speaks of Churches (those with bishops in succession from the apostles) and 'ecclesial communities,' which have many elements of churchly life, but do not have apostolic succession.
But in any case what the distinction above possibly mean? What is this boast that Catholics, unlike Evangelicals(?) 'engage...all of society'?
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written by Ray Hunkins, March 21, 2011
Quite apart from immigration policy and the debate surrounding that policy, is the question of the rule of law and enforcement of the statutes enacted into law. As a people in a free society,we can have any number of views on immigration and still believe that abdication of enforcement of the law is indeed a very bad idea . The rule of law is what distinguishes our nation from many others and when the executive does not meet its mandate to "faithfully execute the laws of the United States" our commitment to the rule of law is debilitated and the law abiding citizenry is demoralized.This must be taken into account by those who make pronouncements on the immigration issue. To do otherwise is to facilitate disrespect for the law.
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written by Louise, March 21, 2011
'Unlike some evangelicals, Catholics are a Church not a sect, . . . That's a strange way for a Catholic to deal with ecclesiology. "

Dear Mr./Mrs. March:

Not "strange" at all. At the risk of being repetitive, see Hilaire Belloc's 1938 book, "The Great Heresies", Chapter 7, 'The Modern Phase.' It is available on line, free of charge. Not too far into the chapter, Belloc addresses this point historically, succinctly, and, I think, irrefutably.

God bless you, Dr. Royal. You have your work cut out for you.
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written by Achilles, , March 21, 2011
Dr. Royal, this is sure to be a very unpopular article. I was nearly scandalized when a Deacon at our Parish gave a talk in place of the homily that was a plea to ignore that fact that illegals cross the border illegally and just accept them with out question. He told the story of how our new Priest crossed the border illegally when he was 16 and it was a proud moment for our congregation that we could all be so tolerant of this illegal act because our new priest is such a beautiful person. He is a truly beautiful person, but to not acknowledge a crime as a crime is morally unconscionable. Sadly, one moral lapse leads to another and we put ourselves in grave danger when we take our crimes and deny them. “What good is it to gain the whole world when we lose our souls instead?”
I am deeply saddened by the moral ambiguity we see in Mother Church at times. It is a simple matter, render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
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written by Other Joe, March 21, 2011
Jesus said that law must be based on love - that seems to mean that law cannot be separated from love and people get that easily. It also would mean that love cannot be separated from law and that's a little harder to take for some. The law cannot be overthrown in the interests of love (compassion) without creating a greater injustice. Ends do not justify means. The law makes provision for judicial amnesty and clemency to rebalance imperfect application of the law - but this ignoring of law is causing widespread corruption for all concerned and is leading to more rather than less injustice. Great article.
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written by Dave, March 21, 2011
I think it's great, Dr. Royal that you have made use of biblical categories for your analysis. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church remind us that Sacred Scripture is the soul of theology, together with Sacred Tradition, which reinforce and reinterpret each other. Our Holy Father Benedict XVI constantly reminds us of the need to return to the Bible. As social doctrine is part of the Church's teaching, it too needs to be firmly grounded in the Word of God. Thanks for applying that exhortation to your analysis today.

That said, a few observations. It may be that we still are not a xenophobic nation -- may that day never come -- but still, it appears the average American is reeling from the large numbers of newcomers to our shores who for the first time in the history of immigration to this country want the benefits of citizenship and the advantages of our economic life without really buying in to the cultural presuppositions that make our society work. And it appears to the average American, that this non-acceptance of our cultural norms is accepted and promoted by those driving to let more foreigners in. So average Americans feel disoriented but more, betrayed: hence the harshness in our current political discourse. They also feel angry that there are more and more places in their own country where speaking in English doesn't cut it. Try going to Europe and refusing to learn the language. It reminds me of a Spanish girl I once met who crowed that it was possible to live an entire lifetime in NYC without ever having to learn English. She thought it great, and when I asked her how she'd feel if millions of Americans moved to Madrid then said, the best part is that with so many of us we don't have to learn Spanish. I didn't get the date.

The Church suspects nationalism because nationalism was not the Creator's original intention: languages, and hence cultures and political entities supporting them, arose, according to the Bible, because of the Tower of Babel, when mankind first attempted to raise itself to the level of the divine without the divine assistance. Post-Babel, we are definitely in Plan B. Nationalism and pride in one's language and culture become goods only when they are not so narrowly construed as to be closed from enrichment through cross-cultural communication. I suppose there may be an analogy to the universal destiny of goods: as all the resources of the world belong to all the people of the world such that, private property notwithstanding, no one may be justly deprived of the means of life, so all the cultures and languages of the world belong to all the peoples of the world each of whom is entitled to be enriched by all the others. That this is not the case bespeaks how little advanced we are in the plan of redemption, and says more about us than about the Lord or the Church.

Finally, I agree with your very important point that save for the pro-life argument, Catholic social conservatives are hard to find. A word of caution, however: just because they are not attending bishops' conferences or Federal funding events or other highly organized activities does not mean that social conservatives are not quietly about doing their work. The bishops' conference is long known as a haven for political leftism mascarading as theology; and the bishops, despite their beliefs to the contrary, are still long from recovering the moral authority they have lost over the decades, which loss escalated exponentially in the light of the emergence last decade of apparently tolerated priestly sexual abuse of minors.

We may never know how many Catholic social conservatives are so engaged; and, if we take St. Joseph as our example, we never will know, nor should we: there is much to be said for good that is performed coram Dei and in no one else's eyes. So I'm reluctant to draw hard conclusions as to where the Catholic social conservatives are. We're around, doing our things quietly.
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written by Chris, March 21, 2011
Wonderful article and I would like to add something that always seems to go unnoticed. Every time there is a discussion on illegal immigration, the loudest voices always talk about love for fellow man and social justice which should certainly be part of the equation, but the last time I checked, there were millions (five million on my last info) of people sitting in foreign lands many of whom are living under less than desirable governments who have legally filled out their paperwork to come to America and legally sit and wait in their place in line. Apparently there only crime is their geographical distance from our borders. Yet no one ever seems to talk about social justice for these people. Yes, America is a land of immigrants, but the ones that everybody talks about being responsible for building this nation almost all came here legally.
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written by Louise, March 21, 2011
Re: two of Dave's comments.

First, about Europeans not wanting to hear English spoken in their countries. This brought to mind an incident from many years back. My brother, who worked for the Dept. of Defense, went to Paris for a conference. His wife went with him, but, during the conference, she went to Normandy to visit her brother's grave at the U.S. cemetery. He lost his life in the invasion to liberate France (and all of Europe) from the Nazis.

When they were checking out at the airport, the female agent gave my sister-in-law a very difficult time, refusing to understand anything she said in English. My sister-in-law was furious and felt deliberately humiliated. When my brother handed his passport to the agent, she saw that it carried a diplomatic seal. Suddenly, she spoke the most fluent and beautiful English ever heard by human ear.

"how many Catholic social conservatives are at work"

It seems to me that there is a sign on the door of the social conservative movement at large and an unspoken message that Catholics need not apply. Am I mistaken in this? So much of it seems to originate in Evangelical middle or southern America in which there is a deep-seated, perhaps unrecognized and unacknowledged, distrust of Catholics and Catholicism. Our Bishops only add fuel to this fire by their statements, even the ones who try to present nuanced conservative arguments. Nuance doesn't make itself heard in a bumper-sticker, sound-bite world.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 21, 2011
Catholics did not invent the misleading locution "undocumented immigrant," but they have adapted it uncritically, not realizing that its implication is that those who come into this coutnry in contravention of our laws are not here illegally because the United States government is not a legitimate government and that its so-called laws are therefore not valid or binding. Some Cathoics are no doubt bamboozled into accepting this becuase they imagine, as David noted above, that nationhood itelef is contrary to Christianity, which calls for unity among all people and therefore the abolition of arbitrary national boundaries. But Catholic teaching does not hold that all nations and states are unatural and immoral contrivances that Catholics must not recognize. (We are not Jehovah's Witnesses). On the contrary, the Church has always recogniized the the obigation to obey "the law." Encouraging people to break the law on the gounds that our country does not have the right to deteremine who may or may not enter it is deny the very legitimacy of our government. We have come a long way since the time when the patriotism of Catholics in the USA was automatically suspect, and we do not benefit from leaders who promote contempt for our nation's laws and by implication contempt for our country itself.
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written by abiologistforlife, March 21, 2011
"Ethnic tensions have appeared – and happily dissipated – in our past. But being prophetic about respecting people’s cultures should include recognizing that we have a culture, too."

DO we? I think a serious (albeit not absolute) argument can be made that -- after the dramatic political reshuffling of the mid 20th century, ending in the great rupture of the 60s and early 70s -- the *United States* does NOT have a culture any longer. Some states within it do (Texas, Utah); some subregions ('Hollywood' area of California); even cross-state regions (Mexican border region, 'Deep South'). But I think the way current politics and ideologies function means that there is no longer really a common culture shared by Left and Right.

@Dave: Similarly, in my view we have already thrown "the cultural presuppositions that make our society work" in the trash (though more so in some places than others), are coasting on rapidly eroding cultural capital, and a near-wholesale infusion of the far more vital Latin American culture would be a tremendous improvement.

(Yes, Latin America has huge problems. But they're complementary to those of the US: they're top-down, problems of corrupt government and massive organized crime. Ours are bottom-up, a morally bankrupt culture - though in a democratic republic it of course affects the government, see Roe v Wade and its acceptance by the states -- yes, I know they have no choice de jure, but if the Red State governments really believed abortion was murder they'd have wrecked it by pure obstructionism by now.)
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written by Roger, March 21, 2011
The essay aims high but misses the mark a bit in talking about immigration. The head and the heart probably give better counsel than the "viscera". Immigrants are not all of a piece. A lot of the Mexicans, for example, share work ethic, family morality and a piety more akin to that of the 17th Century Pennsylvania and Massachusetts colonists than it is to the Hollywood liberals and the MSM.
The U.S. Catholic Church could benefit from these immigrants as bread benefits from yeast.
On the issue of legality: I don't know very many Americans who can honestly say they have not violated "our laws," but many all too readily explain that their violations are de minimus while the "violation" of crossing the border to do honest work so you can feed your family --somehow now THAT'S a serious violation.
There used to be anti-Italian and anti-Irish and anti-German and anti-any newcomer feelings, whatever their language or origin. Often the last ones in join the hoyitoitys in feeling superior to the recent arrivals in calling for the gate to be closed behind them.

I say let in the good ones; keep out the bad ones. But the current law is (empirically speaking) too obsolete to enforce. So will our craven political classchange it? It is not rocket science.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 21, 2011
Dear Biologist, I concur with almsot everything that you wrote. I would like to opine, however, that the moral corruption can be viewed not from below but from above, if we take the view that academia, supported largely by our tax dollars, has been forcing moral relativism, hedonsim, nihilism, and hatred of Christianity for decades. The imagined intellectual and cultural elite who poison the minds of our young through the universities that they are forced to attend to compete for jobs as well as the entertainment idustry, are in league with the Leftist political machine that has resulted in crowds cheering to hear a President say, No one should be denied to serve their (SIC) country because of who they love." A few months before that the phrase was "becuase of who they are" That wasn't bad enough. He went from suggesting that one's sexual proclivities were "who they" do proclaiming that sodomy is love, and woe be to anyone who dares to point out that such is not only incompatible with calling oneself a Christian but contrary to the laws of biology. Sad to say that many of the 53% of Americans that ABC tells today support homsexual marriage are Sefl-identified Catholics, many of whom have never heard from the pulpit anything to the contrary.
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written by Achilles, March 21, 2011
Roger, uh no.
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written by GodsCommandmentsComeFirst, March 22, 2011
Before one can talk about respect for the rule of law, one must first ask if the law in question is consistent with God's commandments. Respect for the rule of law does NOT apply to man-made laws that violate God's commandments. It is EVIL for legislators to vote for a law contrary to God's commandments, and it is EVIL to attempt to enforce such a law after it is passed.

I have yet to see any proof that our immigration laws are consistent with God's commandments. On the contrary, Cardinal Mahoney, with his call for civil disobedience, has strongly hinted that our immigration laws violate God's commandments. In addition, at least one other bishop explicitly claimed that our immigration laws are morally unjust laws.

Not only that, any law that oppresses the poor and marginalized, or even appears to, would seem to be presumptively contrary to God's commandments. Catholic moral teaching makes it abundantly clear that oppressing the poor is EVIL. ALL human beings have GOD-given rights that ALL governments have an absolute duty to respect. It is EVIL for any government to refuse to respect such rights.

If we seriously tried to enforce our immigration laws, one result would be the break-up of many families, since different members of immigrant families often have different legal statuses. Given the harm to society that broken families have caused, it would seem to be evil to deliberately break up immigrant families in order to enforce our immigration laws. It makes more sense to assume that the law is evil in such cases.

As for fairness to those who follow the rules and wait their turn, why does the process take so long? The proper way to deal with that problem is to make it easier to follow the rules by speeding up the movement of the line. Why does it take years to come according to the rules? Some retail stores will open another cash register if the lines reach a certain length. Why not do something similar for the immigration line?

Therefore, it seems to me that the weight of the evidence is that our immigration laws violate God's commandments. In other words, the burden of proof is on the side of those who believe that our immigration laws are consistent with God's commandments. I cannot understand why others just ASSUME that our immigration laws are consistent with God's commandments. The right to control our borders does not give us the right to use evil means to do so, such as oppressing the poor or breaking up families.
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written by Achilles, March 22, 2011
"We are here to colonize heaven, not make things better on earth." Msgr. Knox

Karl Marx is not God!
Liberation theology is evil.
Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's.
Encouraging the breaking of our national laws out of sentientality or myopia is evil.
So Roger, uh .... no, again.
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written by Achilles,, March 22, 2011
Roger, after I sent the uncharitable response, I saw that Father Schall answered nearly all of your stated misunderstandings in today's article and with gentlemanly charity. Please read and understand Lent and the Religion of Humanity by Father Schall, if you can see beyond your presuppositions, you will be edified. Pax et bonum, achilles
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written by abiologistforlife, March 22, 2011
The current laws are impractical - practically impossible to enforce consistently - and should be replaced.

The duty to obey (just) laws while they are laws does not exclude the duty (in a democratic society) to work for better laws.

@Thomas C. Coleman: yes, I can see that, but even the entertainment industry and academia is what I was calling "bottom up" in that it's --social and cultural-- not --governmental--. The entertainment industry (and i think that's a MUCH bigger factor in most Americans' lives than academia) is largely profit-driven. There's still a pretty huge bottom-up factor.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 22, 2011
Dear Biologist,
Thank you for your respone. I know longer believe that the corruption that comes from the entertainment world is profit driven. The creeps could make even more money making moveis and usic that fmilies would patronize. Unlike in the early years of mass enterntainment, when those who made us laugh and lifted our spirits with song and dance and even instructed us ala Capra, came out of any early world of ars gratia artis, and many of them had never been contaminated by Christianity-hating professors. but now nearly all of the people in that arena HAVE been so contaminated, and they believe it is their duty to liberate us from Christianity. There is nothing new about socialist millionaires. Few in that world dare to espouse a vieew that is not Politically Correct, and as I have attemtped to argue here before, PC is just a euphemism for Communist Party Discipline. Of course, I know that many of those idiots have never even read Marx, but there is harldy any tenet of the PC canon that is not based in Marxism, espcially the contempot for marriage. I challenege anyone to identify anything that the Left believes that is not either Marxist in origin or something used by Marxists to corrupt peole, such as the Left's dogmatic promotion of sodomy. We have a Secretary of State who calls Margret Sanger her herione, and a self-identified Catholic VP is clrows that homosexual marriage is an inevitablility. Incidentally, by appointing these fake Catholics to high positions, the Abortion Party has set itself up to decide who are the good Catholics and who are the bad Catholics, the latter, of course, being those of us who embrace the Teachings of Holy Mother Church. There's a war on borther and sisters! Get out your rosaries!
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written by Graham Combs, March 23, 2011
Dr. Royal reminds me here just why TCT is a nearly daily visitation for me. Someone above noted that he has his work cut out for him. Indeed he does. Anyone who has gone to law school in the last twenty years (I graduated in 1994) understands that subversion of immigraton laws -- not to mention the Constitution -- is now taught, not as a course, but as a duty in every course. I recall an Hispanic professor who was so upset by a minor criticism that in her next class she spoke exclusively in Spanish for several minutes. A clear act of contempt toward the majority who weren't Hispanic. The laughter from Spanish-speaking students was evidence that her words were at our expense. I don't know what you do when the vast majority of institutional America and even institutional Catholicism simply cannot think clearly, rationally, or even legally, about this situation. I lived in NYC for many many years and developed a true respect for the intelligence and work ethic of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadoreans et al. A work ethic, by the way, similar to that of my own ancestors -- working poor, Scots Irish Southerners. But just as the Church now understands her financial resources are not limitless, so have Americans confronted -- or tried to -- the limitations of our institutional resources. How can this go on? How is attacking the faithful a way to appeal to their proven charity and compassion?

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