The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

National News

February 6, 2013

Catholic bishops conflicted over gays, immigration

— The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are in a difficult position as the debate over immigration reform gets underway: The immigrant-built American church, known for advocating a broad welcome for migrants and refugees, could end up opposing reform because it would recognize same-sex partners.

Proposals by President Barack Obama and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus include the same-sex partners of Americans among those who would be eligible for visas. The Human Rights Campaign and other gay advocates welcomed the recognition, arguing current laws unfairly treat people in gay or lesbian relationships “as strangers.” The idea has the backing of the National Council de la Raza and other liberal Latino groups.

But Catholic bishops, with the support of evangelicals and other theological conservatives, have sent a letter to Obama protesting his proposal. In a sign of the sensitivity of the issue, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would not provide a copy of the statement, saying the signatories agreed not to make the letter public. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops, would say only that recognition of gay couples in the president’s reform proposals “jeopardizes passage of the bill.”

Galen Carey, public policy officer for the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 40 denominations and has been lobbying for new immigration laws, said, “Our view is immigration reform is not the place to have this discussion.” The theologically conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod also signed the Catholic bishops’ letter.

“The issue of immigration on its own is so controversial, so polarizing,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the evangelical National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He was in the Las Vegas audience last week when Obama presented his plan. “Let’s not play politics with 11 million undocumented immigrants.”

It is far too early to know how much of a factor gay relationships will become in what is expected to be a complicated and emotional debate. The plan unveiled last week by eight leading Democratic and Republican senators did not mention same-gender partners. Many other major religious groups lobbying for reform, such as The Episcopal Church, either support gay marriage or don’t make homosexuality a focus. In a conference call this week with reporters, White House Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Munoz was asked whether Obama would support a bill that didn’t acknowledge same-sex partners. Her only response: “The president’s position on that is very clear.”

Still, endorsements from traditional denominations may carry more significance in the current political climate, in which conservative-leaning lawmakers are worried about political damage from backing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“The bishops’ support, I think, is going to be critical for swinging moderates in the House to support this bill,” said Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at Catholic University of America and chair of the anti-abortion Democrats for Life, who was part of the Catholics for Obama re-election effort.

It seems unlikely the bishops would accept any provision for same-sex partners— even for an issue as important to the church as immigration. In their drive for greater orthodoxy among Catholics, bishops have made preserving traditional marriage a priority. Last week, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who leads the bishops’ marriage efforts, said the struggle against gay marriage is a gift from God “and by overcoming it we may achieve spiritual greatness.” He made the comments in an interview with The Catholic Herald, a news outlet in Britain.

The bishops’ stand against Obama’s health care law provides some indication of their thinking when they view a core moral teaching in conflict with a long-held social justice goal.

For decades, the bishops had advocated for improved access to health care, especially for the poor. But church leaders concluded that the president’s plan, known as the Affordable Care Act, would provide financing for ending pregnancies. The administration and Democratic supporters of the law insisted the bishops were wrong, and said no taxpayer money would fund abortion coverage. But the bishops ultimately opposed the legislation.

Yet, immigration seems even more critical than health care to the church.

Americans church leaders have spent decades lobbying for revisions that would keep families together and fulfill what the church considers the duty of all countries, especially wealthier ones, to do as much as possible to help the poor and persecuted. The church and Catholic groups run a network of aid programs for migrants, refugees and illegal immigrants, taking positions that recognize the country’s right to protect its borders, but that still fall “to the left of the Democratic Party,” Schneck said.

This position is rooted in papal and Gospel teachings so extensive that evangelicals often borrow the theological framework for their own advocacy. In a 2003 joint plea for immigration reform, called “Strangers No Longer,” U.S. and Mexican bishops stated, “Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected.”

The issue is of special historic importance to the American Catholic church, which was built by waves of Irish, Italians, Poles and others. The immigrant presence in the pews is now growing as American-born white Catholics drop out in significant numbers. Researchers estimate that a third of the 66 million U.S. Catholics are Latino.

“This is an issue that has been a huge priority for the church for a really long time,” said Kristin Heyer, a professor at Santa Clara University in California who studies immigration and Catholic social thought. “The wider Catholic community, in addition to the bishops, has mobilized in a major way.”

Ultimately, the controversy could split Catholics, in much the same way that Catholics divided over health care. Despite enormous pressure from the bishops, the Catholic Health Association, a trade group that represents hospitals, provided critical backing for the president’s health care legislation. Surveys have found that large majorities of lay Catholics back same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Given the importance of Latinos to the U.S. church, political observers wonder how bishops could explain their opposition to Hispanic parishioners.

Kim Daniels, an attorney and director of Catholic Voices USA, a conservative-leaning lay group that defends church teaching, has been urging Catholics across the political spectrum to drop their differences and get behind immigration reform. Still, she said, “being Catholic in the public square means standing up for all our issues.”

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Salmonella decline seen in food poisoning report

    The government’s latest report card on food poisoning shows a dip in salmonella cases but an increase in illnesses from bacteria in raw shellfish.

    April 18, 2014

  • Judge in gay marriage case asks pointed questions

    A judge in Colorado who will play a pivotal role deciding whether gays should be allowed to wed in the United States asked pointed questions Thursday about whether Oklahoma can legally ban the unions.

    April 17, 2014

  • Obama shows skepticism on Russia in Ukraine

    President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism Thursday about Russian promises to de-escalate a volatile situation in Ukraine, and said the United State and its allies are ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow doesn’t make good on its commitments.

    April 17, 2014

  • Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find

    Secret Service investigators say they are close to gaining a full understanding of the methods hackers used to breach Target’s computer systems last December.

    April 17, 2014

  • Court to weigh challenge to ban on campaign lies

    As political campaigns begin to heat up, the Supreme Court is deciding whether false accusations and mudslinging made during an election can be punished as a crime.

    April 16, 2014

  • Auto Show Nissan Hot _Cast.jpg Hot models at this year’s New York Auto Show

    With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the U.S. auto industry.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • Transportation Blues 2.jpg Congress is giving states the transportation blues

    On the road in a tour bus this week, the U.S. transportation secretary is spreading some bad news: the government’s Highway Trust Fund is nearly broke.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Report: Russia withheld intel before Boston attack

    A yearlong review of information the U.S. intelligence community had prior to the Boston Marathon bombing found that the investigation could have been more thorough.

    April 11, 2014

  • Obama Health Secretary.jpg Obama announces Sebelius resignation, successor

    President Barack Obama praised outgoing Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for helping to steer his health care law’s comeback after a rocky rollout, even as he nominated a successor aimed at helping the White House move past the political damage.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Police seek driver in deadly Florida day care crash

    As mourners trickled by Thursday to honor the 4-year-old girl who was killed and 14 others injured in a crash at a Florida day care, authorities scoured the state for the driver they said fled in the vehicle that caused the fatal wreck.

    April 10, 2014

Facebook
Poll

A Missouri Senate committee has endorsed a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House earlier this month. If passed by the full Senate, the measure would head to the November ballot for voter approval. Would you vote in favor of it?

Yes.
No.
     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case