More Than Filling Pews

Former Presidential Advisor, Steve Bannon, in an interview on “60 Minutes,” offered a rather un-nuanced view on why the Catholic Bishops of the U.S. were pro-immigration. Bannon stated: “They need illegal aliens to fill the pews.”

Any student of the history of the Catholic Church in the U.S. or of Sacred Scripture could attest that the support of the U.S. Bishops DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) has little to do with “filling the pews.” It has everything to do with mercy and the Christian imperative to welcome the stranger among us.

Anti-Catholic sentiment has a long history in the U.S., from debates between Jefferson and Adams over who could vote, to the blatant bigotry of Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Samuel Morse, to the concepts of the anti-papal tests of the Know-Nothing Party.

We should keep in mind that the Holy Family were immigrants, traveling for safety into the land of Egypt and then back to Israel after the death of Herod.

The children of DACA know nothing of a life in foreign countries. They were raised in America, with American values, and concepts and, by and large, are virtually indistinguishable from any other young person their age.

When the Irish came to our nation, they were considered as undesirables, foreign agents of the Vatican, here to populate the country for the pope. Likewise, the Italians, and now, apparently Latino immigrants are being tarred with the same brush.

We are not speaking about terrorists; we are not speaking about criminals; we are speaking about the man who is the usher in the parish on Sunday, about the woman who sits next to us at the senior group, about the young man in our parish who is responding to the call to priesthood and the young woman who feels called to religious life. These children of DACA are culturally American and are our brothers and sisters in our faith.

Would the churches be lesser in attendance without the immigrant? Yes, this is a fact in our Diocese of Immigrants. But numbers are not the reason. The injustice would be in denying beautiful, wonderful, holy Catholic women, men, and children a place at the table of the Lord and our love and support as brothers and sisters.

We don’t think Bannon is a monster; he is an intelligent man, but one wonders if the allure of the sound bite and the need to placate an element of his support in American society has intrigued him more than his experience of the Church in the U.S.