Catholic progressives are used to feeling the heat from some bishops who give the impression that abortion is the only life issue. It’s not every day that you hear a Catholic bishop directly challenge self-identified “pro-life” groups for their selective moralizing and crass tactics. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg – a moderate who has also questioned religious leaders’ apocalyptic denunciations of the Obama administration’s contraception coverage requirements as part of the Affordable Care Act – jumps into the fray on his blog:
I am convinced that many so called pro-life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion…We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic
Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.
Bishop Lynch is responding to trends I wrote about recently in a new report that uncovers how pro-life groups like the American Life League are waging a relentless campaign to undermine the church’s most respected social justice ministries. He doesn’t beat around the bush:
From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect – well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested.
It’s refreshing to hear a bishop stand up for the church’s consistent ethic of life tradition in a way that puts public pressure on conservatives who usually receive a free pass from the hierarchy.
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Last Saturday, my friend Troy Jackson of Ohio Prophetic Voices and fellow Ohio clergy led a 500-person march to House Speaker John Boehner’s office in Springfield, Ohio, to call on the Speaker to pass immigration reform including a roadmap to citizenship. Their message was simple: a path to citizenship is smart, moral and urgent. Earlier in the week, hundreds of evangelical leaders from 27 states met face to face with their Representatives on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to pass immigration reform.
Those actions were just a preview of what faith leaders will do during the critical August Congressional recess. Republican lawmakers now face a clear choice: heed the moral authority of families and faith leaders calling for citizenship, or continue to let Rep. Steve King set the party’s immigration agenda. While some GOP leaders distanced themselves from King’s recent accusation that DREAMers being drug smugglers (a claim faith leaders who work on the border forcefully rebuked), don’t forget that an overwhelming majority of Republican House Members voted in favor of King’s recent bill to resume mass deportation of DREAMers.
Not your father’s pope
Since his election to the papacy this spring, Pope Francis has earned headlines and widespread praise for symbolic gestures and substantive remarks about a variety of issues. His bold message about the dignity of immigrants and his damning indictment of both the values and the effects of unfettered global capitalism have resonated around the world and energized the faithful here in the U.S. As a Presbyterian minister, I believe his influence is already stretching well beyond the Catholic church.
For a personal reflection on the impact Pope Francis is having on people in the pews, check out this Washington Post On Faith essay by my colleague John Gehring, Faith in Public Life’s Catholic Program Director.
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Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a Catholic, revealed the ignorance and prejudice behind his anti-immigrant policy stances (again) last week, saying about DREAMers, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that — they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
After being rebuked by Democrats and House Republican leaders alike, King defended himself by claiming that his views were rooted in his experience traveling along the US-Mexico border. On Monday, Catholic leaders who serve immigrant populations in border communities and have expertise in immigration policy pointed out that King’s views are as ill-informed as they are offensive.
Sister Rosemary Welsh, Executive Director of Casa de Misericordia in Laredo, TX, which provides shelter, legal assistance and other crucial services for immigrants, said
“These hateful remarks demean the immigrant families I work with every day and have no place in debates about the urgent need for smart and humane immigration reform. I invite Rep. King to spend time with us on the border, read the Gospels and reflect on his faith’s teachings about the dignity of immigrants. Now is the time for constructive solutions not offensive rhetoric.”
Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, AZ, which provides humanitarian assistance and education in border communities, said
“Through my ministry on the U.S./Mexico border, I witness firsthand the courage and dignity of those who dream of a better life for their families. I urge Congressman King to remember Jesus’ words that ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35), and to stop obstructing just and humane immigration reform.”
Father Rafael Garcia, S.J., of Immaculate Conception Church in Albuquerque, NM, said
As a former pastor of a border parish in El Paso for 13 years, I find Rep. King’s caricature narrow-minded at best. Hopefully he will apologize for his derisive comments — and better yet, have a change of heart.
Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, which organized the Nuns on the Border tour earlier this summer that highlighted the work of Catholic Sisters in border cities from Texas to California, said
“Rep. King is simply out of touch with the reality of migrants’ experiences and chooses to ridicule women, children and families trapped in a broken immigration system instead of joining with business, labor and faith leaders working for practical and moral solutions. His reckless and irresponsible approach is not in keeping with the values of our nation or our shared Catholic faith.”
Rev. Thomas Greene, S.J, the Secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference in Washington, DC, said
“At a time that when our nation needs elected officials to engage in reasoned, well-informed conversations about the urgency of immigration reform, Congressman King chose to inject inflammatory and ill-informed remarks into the debate. Such statements demean the millions of hard-working immigrants in the U.S. and are a mean-spirited attempt to derail long overdue comprehensive immigration reform.”
In addition, the Sioux City Journal reports that the Catholic bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, which is in King’s district, rebuked the Congressman Monday:
“I am disappointed by Rep. King’s remarks, which speak of migrants in a way that undermines their human dignity and the respect owed them as children of God,” Rev. R. Walker Nickless said in a statement. “While Catholics may disagree on the specific approach to reforming the immigration system, they should agree that the immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and humane manner.”
It will take more than words alone for House Republicans to distance themselves from King’s hateful rhetoric. If they want Americans to believe King doesn’t speak for them, they need to pass reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans who remain trapped in the shadows.
This post has been updated since first publication.
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Several of my colleagues at Faith in Public Life made a pilgrimage to this week’s Moral Monday demonstration at the North Carolina state capitol, where they found a moving display of the faith community’s moral courage and perseverance in the face of injustice. Building upon 12 weeks of remarkable grassroots mobilizing, hundreds of people came out to make their voices heard, more than 70 were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, and religious leaders stood on the front lines.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Moral Monday movement, led by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, is uniting a diverse group of faith and secular leaders to push back on many immoral policies, including the Republican-controlled state legislature’s attacks on public education, tax credits for working families, safety net programs and healthcare. It’s no surprise that Moral Mondays has a higher approval rating than lawmakers in the state capitol.
The legislature’s latest scheme – voter suppression — will make undoing the damage more difficult. This week, GOP lawmakers advanced a bill that not only contains discriminatory voter ID requirements, but also scales back voter registration, early voting and access to polling places.
There’s something profoundly unjust about ramming through an unpopular, destructive agenda and then restricting voters’ ability to respond through the democratic process.
It’s no coincidence that North Carolina Republicans are doing this just weeks after five conservative Supreme Court justices struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Before that ruling, large parts of the state were subject to federal pre-clearance of changes to voting laws because of the state’s extensive history of disenfranchising African Americans. Now, legislators can get away with laws that are designed to hinder constituencies such as minorities, young people and low-income people from voting.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that extremist politicians across the country are pushing agendas that harm struggling families and are opposed by most Americans. As we gear up for federal debates on immigration reform, healthcare and budget priorities, the Moral Mondays campaign has provided a clear example of how the faith community can stand resolutely for justice.
In other news, check out this story about the growth of religious progressives as the religious right declines!
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It’s outrageous and heartbreaking that George Zimmerman was not held accountable for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin at point-blank range. This injustice affected Americans so deeply because it emblemized numerous intersecting pathologies of our society: a rampant culture of gun violence, inexcusable gun laws, deeply ingrained racism, and the devaluation of young black men’s lives.
At times like this it can be difficult to picture the day when tragedies like Trayvon’s killing no longer occur. But abolition and integration were once considered pipe dreams too, and the largely peaceful nationwide outpouring of grief after Zimmerman’s acquittal is a testament to faith leaders’ power to channel outrage into peaceful action, as Rev. William Barber II did at Moral Monday in North Carolina. While our hearts are troubled, our spirits must remain strong.
Catholic colleges call a path to citizenship ‘moral, urgent, practical’
A new group of influential leaders from the faith community weighed in on the immigration debate today. A press teleconference call this morning organized by Faith in Public Life unveiled a letter signed by 93 Catholic college presidents calling on Catholic members of the House of Representatives – including House Speaker John Boehner – to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship. The letter also ran as an ad in today’s print edition of Politico, as well as in targeted online ads. It said in part:
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible.
We hope that as you face intense political pressure from powerful interest groups, you will draw wisdom and moral courage from our shared faith tradition. Catholic teaching values the human dignity and worth of all immigrants, regardless of legal status. We remind you that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.
The letter is signed by nationally prominent Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and the Catholic University of America, as well as many colleges in districts represented by strategically important Republican lawmakers. As House Members weigh whether to support, obstruct or dilute reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship, the chorus of voices calling for a path to citizenship is growing louder.
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