It's been a long time since priests and bishops could simply change minds or create policy on the strength of their vested authority. These days Catholics and others are likely to pay little to no attention. There are many reasons for this, of course, but if's pretty safe to say those days are gone forever. Without persuasive arguments that reflect widespread lay, secular belief, their voices have been made marginal.
So what will happen to their recent pledges to fight to prevent a Trump government from his oft-stated crusade to throw undocumented immigrants out of the country? Though he's modified that threat to 11 million or so people from other countries, presumably confining the targets to those with criminal records, nothing can be assumed since his schemes change on a dime. In any case, however, a growing number of big-diocese bishops are declaring that they will protect a broad array of aliens, a large percentage of which are their real or assumed constituents. They include Dolan in New York and Gomez in Los Angeles and many in between.
But what do they mean and how far will they go? Will they question the laws that would allegedly be used to justify expulsion? Or examine the integrity of hearings and trials that stigmatized those who are branded? Given the wholesale injustices suffered by non-whites and non-affluent, how could a defense not include the mechanisms that would mark them for exile?
Would the resistance consist of polite, "reasonable" requests for leniency or be willing to risk discord to the point of enacting street protest and other forms of conscientious objection? I've heard none of that, perhaps for good reason. It's still a matter of speculation and posturing. No reason to show all your cards before the first move.
The opening salvos have been spongy. They side with the vulnerable, vow to support them in the spirit of human dignity, and leave the rest to the imagined days of reckoning.
Explore this NCR special report with recent articles on the topic of immigration and family separation.
"From our point of view, we certainly respect the government; "we also have shepherd's heart,," said the Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the bishops' conference. As shepherd's, the bishops were called upon to "bring Catholics together to recognize the beauty of the human person, even if someone disagrees with you." Other bishops and university presidents spoke up for the undocumented and basically said they'd do as much as the law allowed. Their intentions sound sincere and their verbal and legal strategies could suffice. If they do not, it doesn't appear they are prepared to take to the streets in the face of government forces bent on rounding up the suspects. The aspirations and sentiments soar; the tactics may rise to the challenge but so far they show little consent to sacrifice reputation or physical well-being. Perhaps that's goo much to expect of anyone, but when you are a beleaguered immigrant fearful of losing life and limb, aspirations and even mild declarations matter.
This has the makings of tremendous human suffering so the lengths to which allies of the cause will go can make the difference. It takes courage to refuse government edicts, stand your ground and get arrested. That kind of risk is what happens once the "niceness" and surface respect erodes and talk breaks down. Is this what bishops mean? Being loaded in a paddy wagon? Being ridiculed by fellow Catholics? Losing reputation? For his part, it's yet to be determined what Trump means but this is a man of impulse and proving himself so the odds are he will strike a blow of some kind.
Like may others, therefore, I applaud the instincts and beliefs that have prompted these initial goals of protection and defense. If the promises are largely make of pie-crust and the public support is only a feeble gesture to shore up church participation, the consequences in terms of mental and spiritual anguish could foment the greatest disaster.
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