Where Archbishop Wenski went wrong….

In the National Catholic Register, Archbishop Thomas Wenski rendered an opinion on illegal immigration entitled ‘Why We Defend Migrants’. The bishop engaged in the typical twisted logic employed by the supporters of universal amnesty, adding a dash of heavy-handed moralizing to his argument. What Bishop Wenski fails – or refuses – to recognize is this is a complex issue that has cost the lives of thousands of people in the last few years alone. Wenski refuses to acknowledge that the need to safeguard the citizens of the United States is a primary goal of government.  Finally, he insists that existing laws are discriminatory when there is no evidence to support his thesis.

Wenski skates the line between Catholic Theology and radical socialist liberation theology when he asserts that Christ is the ‘Migrant of Migrants’. Somehow he equates God the Son’s assumption of mortality to the plight of the migrant. This is symbolically – and perhaps theologically – unsound. But it is a typical liberation theology rationale. Soteriology teaches us that Christ came to Earth not as a migrant but as a sacrifice to cleanse us of our sins. I am no deep scholar in this discipline, but I cannot recollect any such discussion linking Christ the Paschal Lamb, Christ the Son of God, Christ the King to migration. Wenski makes this analogy not because it is theologically or intellectually sound but because it makes for a strong sound bite to sell to a growing number of Latino Catholics in America.

He uses language like ‘xenophobic’ and avoids the use of the word ‘illegal’ in his discussions on this issue. He claims that he will work for a ‘just’ immigration system – one that seems to include amnesty as a centerpiece.  Again, this is rhetoric designed to appeal to his liberal audience. The good bishop goes so far as to make an allusion to illegal immigrants living unwanted among us and Christ being born in a stable. The Citizen is surprised that he missed drawing a comparison between crossing the border to the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.  Once again, this is over-simplifying a complex issue.

The bishop fails to address the issue that sparked the crisis in Arizona. A 2009 article in the Phoenix Business Journal suggests a strong correlation in the decline of illegal immigrants and crime. Crime rates dropped from nineteen to twenty-five percent in some Arizona cities at the same time the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona dropped by a third. The population decline is estimated by the Center for Immigration Studies.  One can argue that the system that forces people to live illegally among us forces them into a life of crime.  Nothing can be further from the truth.

In debate, such arguments fall under fallacies of distribution and single cause. A fallacy of distribution is one in which something that is true in part must be true in the whole. While we have thousands of families living in this nation illegally who seek nothing more than to live in peace, this does not diminish the fact that crimes are being  committed by a growing number of illegal aliens.   The fact that they are even here is a crime. The fallacy of the single cause is also known as causal oversimplification; this is another flaw in the bishop’s arguments. There is no question that there is a Catholic moral drive to take care of the poor and the needy. Religious and lay Catholics often simplify the illegal immigration debate to satisfy this one facet of a complex political, economic, and legal issue.

Wenski argues that America is a country that cynically abuses the illegal, that breaks up families and denies people the opportunities of citizenship. Nothing can be further from the truth. Illegals are treated in hospitals and clinics, their children are educated in our public schools, public and private social service agencies work on their behalf….despite the fact that they are breaking federal and state laws by living in our nation illegally. Citizenship? Please. There are – at any given time – thousands of families that are divided as they wait for the process that will allow them all to live in the United States as legal residents. My own family went through this process a generation ago – legally.  His argument is insulting to my family and to countless millions of others who have entered this nation and become citizens or guests – legally.

Finally, the archbishop’s article attempts to speak authoritatively on the issue – that it is Church doctrine to oppose enforcement of Arizona and Federal immigration laws. Apostolos Suos, clearly defines the limits of the authority of individual bishops and the Magisterium. Even a majority opinion among the bishops carries no weight – only through the mechanisms of a full Episcopal conference agreeing with unanimity  can anything approaching legitimate doctrine be articulated. And even this is limited by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which in and of itself is merely an articulation of Church teachings drawn from the Bible. Yet Wenski is clearly attempting to establish his arguments as Catholic doctrine.

Wenski refers to this argument to legitimize his position.

“The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.”

Well, this means that Catholic doctrine demands Catholics to support illegal immigration as a ‘natural right’ issue. Not so fast – ‘to the extent that they are able’ is an important clause – and one that is often neglected by liberation theologians. Are we able? We are a nation 13 trillion dollars in debt. The burdens of illegal immigration are bankrupting our border states to provide public services, education, police protection, and – unfortunately, prisons. The United States has been  more generous than most nations – Mexico’s illegal immigration policies are hardly so enlightened.

Even more disturbing is that many Catholic supporters of illegal immigration tend to ignore the second clause of Article 2241:

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

By entering the nation illegally, isn’t there already a violation of being mindful of the “….immigrant’s duties toward their country of adoption”? In fact, is the illegal immigrant even ‘adopting’ the United States?  I find the anti-American sentiment by many guests in our nation to be disturbing – and one that is being fomented by articles like Archbishop Wenski’s. This passage  “…respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them.” is neglected by Wenski and his followers. Why? Because it’s inconvenient. What then is America’s material and spiritual heritage? This ranges from a respect of the rule of law to the usages of English as our common, mother-tongue.  ‘To obey laws and assist in carrying out civic burdens.” By their very nature, people who enter this nation illegally violate these principles – again failing in the obligation of the migrant under the terms of the CCC.

For Archbishop Wenski, obligation is a one-way street. The United States and American citizens have an obligation to provide services to illegal aliens who have no obligations in return? That’s not the way the CCC reads. A comparison of American immigration policies with most nations is illuminating – we are already one of the most tolerant and embracing nations in the world.  Illegal immigration is in and of itself a violation of civil law and is thus an issue for secular authorities.

In short, Archbishop Wenski uses the tricks of the politician and the demagogue to shame the reader into agreeing with his personal opinions. He uses logical fallacies to make his argument superficially convincing as well as resorting to a number of liberation theology concepts.  His thesis that America as a nation is flawed in it’s immigration policies and Catholics who support the rule of law are in error is offensive, untrue, and untenable by Catholic doctrine.

It’s unfortunate that so many bishops like Archbishop Wenski fixate on this issue instead of addressing the root causes of the problem. Why are so many nations impoverished? Is it because the United States is so selfish? No. Is it because we take from everyone else? No. Is it because we have all the resources and won’t share? No. It’s because our form of government provides the most freedoms for the greatest number of people. We have a country ruled by law that guarantees that people have the right to pursue their dreams of security and prosperity. If other nations were as enlightened, we wouldn’t have these issues. Instead of vilifying the United States, perhaps Archbishop Wenski would be better employed in seeking to promote social and economic justice in nations such as Mexico and Haiti.

His position would be ignorant from a member of the laity but from a ‘Prince of the Church’? Ignorance cannot be a justification – this is nothing more than theological malpractice.

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