The Catholic Thing
Immigration and the Questions Rarely Asked Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 21 November 2014

Efficiency, economic benefit, and preference satisfaction are the categories by which the dominant culture assesses moral and political disputes. But by doing so, it excludes from its gaze certain questions that ought to be asked, some of which seem fundamental to what it means to be human.

So take, for example, the debate over President Obamas executive order on immigration. Whether its coming from the right or the left, the focus of support or critique is almost always on what can measured, with all the inquiries beginning with “how many,” “how much,” and “how desirable.” What cannot be measured, and thus must be ignored, is how amnesty may shape the character of all its beneficiaries including both the immigrants as well as all those of us who have benefited from their presence in this country.

Many people are drawn to the United States precisely because of the stability of its institutions, and the variety of opportunities this stability provides to them. But in order to offer amnesty, the president must breach the nations separation of powers, striking at the principled ground of the very stability that attracts these men, women, and children to this country to begin with. This, ironically, means that the president conscripts these immigrants to be accomplices to his mischief, and thus teaches both them and the nations population that he does not expect these immigrants to conduct themselves like good citizens.

He, on the one hand, cooperates with misshaping their character in the name of helping them, and thus both insults and injures the very people he is claiming to aid. Like a Disneyland Dad who caters to his childrens preference satisfactions while damaging their integrity, the president offers to these immigrants all the benefits of civil society while suggesting that they need not respect its infrastructure in order to receive those benefits. 

On the other hand, there are those to the presidents political right, who begin their inquiries on this subject with the same set of phrases, “how many,” “how much,” and “how desirable.” Not seeing these immigrants as persons of immeasurable worth and dignity made in the image of God, they view them as mere sources of cheap labor, a means by which the captains of industry may provide less expensive goods and services to the large swaths of suburbanites who call for more border security, but benefit immensely from the absence of that security.

           Legal immigrants in Indiana take the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens

It is, therefore, far too late in the game for any side to claim the moral high ground. The Democrats want cheap votes. The Republicans want cheap labor. The group in the middle, the Tea Party, wants the rule of law and border security, though they seem not to mind that their construction, hotel, lawn care, and restaurant costs are less than they otherwise would be, precisely because of the proliferation of undocumented workers willing to accept wages very few citizens would even entertain.

So it seems that every side in the immigration debate arrives at the table with unclean hands and lined pockets, for they all, in one way or another, have benefited (or seek to benefit) from our nations lax and incoherent immigration policies.

As it is often stated, we are a nation of immigrants. My great grandparents on my mothers side immigrated from Naples and Sicily in the early 20th century. They were, like their contemporary counterparts, drawn to this country because of the opportunities it offered to them. But these possibilities did not arise from nothing, whole cloth. They were the result of an understanding of ordered liberty, divided government, the rule of law, the ownership of property, and the dignity of the individual that permeated much of the cultural atmosphere of that era, even when the people of this nation did not always practice it well.

I am, of course, aware that some of those immigrants underwent many hardships because of the cultural and ethnic prejudices they soon encountered once they arrived on these shores. It does no good to sugar coat that reality. Nevertheless, they entered the country legally, were not patronized by the then-current occupant of the White House, and built and sustained communities, families, churches, and synagogues that provided spiritual solace and social stability that the government, thankfully, did not pretend to promise them.

It is time for all devout people of good will to reject the categories of quantitative measurement that our “betters” claim are the only way by which to assess Americas immigration crisis. For it is, at root, a moral issue that has left no one untouched.

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University, where he serves as Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press).

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own. 
What Price Truth? Print E-mail
By Fr . Jerry Pokorsky   
Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Church spends a good deal of money on the education of priests and religious. From seminary or convent formation to continuing education workshops and retreats, the faithful, of course, bear the cost. In justice, what do the faithful receive in return?

The cost of seminary education is considerable. Room, board and tuition, I’m told, is now something like $40,000 a year per seminarian. That amount is charged to the diocese; it does not include the various gifts and grants seminaries receive, and it is comparable to the overall cost of private college.

Over a typical five-year formation period, the cost of educating a seminarian for the priesthood comes to $200,000. Factoring in the number of seminarians that drop out along the way, the effective cost of educating a single priest rises. A good guess for the cost of priest at the end of the formation assembly line, after quality control rejects, would be something like $250,000, probably more.

I haven’t done the math for the formation of sisters (and brothers), and the number may not be as high, unless equivalent college education is included. But the room and board component has to be considerable, and the dropout rate adds to the effective final cost per religious.

(You may be thinking my reducing priests and nuns to financial statistics is unseemly and vulgar, but when I think of my nephew supporting his wife and four kids with three jobs, it just might be useful for priests and religious to recognize the financial burden the Church is placing on him and others like him.)

Add to the overall cost of formation the continuing education costs of the priests or sisters in universities – especially in Rome, the Eternal City – and the overall cost of “the product” continues to rise. We need not continue with this rigorous (if unpleasant) analysis, but I hope the point is well made. The faithful – including my hard-working nephew – bear a considerable cost for their priests and religious. And they deserve value for their hard-earned money.

           Thomas More Defending the Liberty of the House of Commons by Vivian Forbes (1927)

That question came to mind during a recent overseas tour where I was the designated priest for Mass. In some respects, it was a boondoggle for me. Except for about $500, my expenses were covered by the other members on the tour. (I think it was a fair exchange, though. Despite appearances, there is serious “on-time” pastoral work for such a priest. Hence, I remain unashamed.)

An elderly nun was also on the tour. She didn’t look like a nun or expect to be addressed as a nun, nor did she dress like a nun (unless nuns are by rule wearing sneakers and athletic sweat suits nowadays.)  She spoke like a nun, however, betraying years of formation, workshops and retreats. Those of us in the trade know: she talked the talk of religion and liturgy. I hoped things would go smoothly and they almost did.

But at the end of the tour, I overheard Sister speaking to a couple of the younger tourists. Sister explained that the future of the Church would be open to those divorced and remarried to give everyone another chance after a failed marriage. (Earlier I’d resolved to navigate the choppy waters of touring with a modern nun by employing silence. I would say nothing about the shameful appearance of our on-a-first-name-basis sister.)  We’re told that this is, after all, the 21st century.

But now, Sister was talking doctrine. She was opposing the very words of Christ, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” The spirit of Cardinal Walter Kasper was upon her. But I owed those two young people doctrinal clarity as a matter of justice – and they had paid my freight. Despite my live-and-let-live tactics throughout the tour, I had to intervene.

I told Sister that if the Church’s teaching on marriage is going to change, the Church would find it necessary to apologize to Henry VIII, revoke the canonization of Saint Thomas More, rebuke John the Baptist (“The greatest man born of woman”?), canonize Herod and Herodias, and delete the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Old Testament. Sister’s response was immediate:  “I do not believe in doctrine, I believe in love.” (“Please stand for the Creed,” anyone?)  Then she walked off in a huff. 

One of the young folks, after Sister’s departure, to my delight expressed a renewed confidence in the orthodox Catholic faith and wondered why anyone could think Church teaching could change. For my part, mission accomplished. And I hope I paid for my trip with my jackhammer subtlety.

On the flight home, I reflected about how gloomy it was. A woman dedicated to Christ – a woman who received from lay benefactors a lifetime of pay and benefits, the costs of formation and education – reducing her ministry to an epitaph fitting nicely if sadly on a tombstone:  “I do not believe in doctrine, I believe in love.”

In return for all the money spent on priests and religious, is it too much to expect that our benefactors receive the faith, the true faith, and nothing but the faith?

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Annandale, Virginia.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.