By Tanya Connor
The Massachusetts bishops’ July 15 statement about immigration reform is a call for individuals to examine their consciences, Bishop McManus told The Catholic Free Press Wednesday. He also suggested contacting legislators to get their support of reforms in line with Catholic moral teaching.
But he said the statement is not likely to have a dramatic effect on local Church agencies, as they already operate according to Catholic moral teaching.
“A Statement of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts on Comprehensive Immigration Reform” calls the U.S. Senate vote June 27 “a significant step in challenging the morally unacceptable aspects of our present immigration system.” It was released by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops.
Bishop McManus said they were hoping for the House of Representatives to pass something similar to the Senate version, but that does not look likely. (See story on Page 6 for an analysis of immigration reform legislation.)
In addition to Bishop McManus, the signers of the statement were Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, and Bishops George W. Coleman of Fall River and Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield.
In their statement they say they stand “in solidarity with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its many statements of the past decade in support of comprehensive immigration reform.”
They quote Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration: “Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert. Without positive change to our immigration laws, we cannot help our brothers and sisters. Simply put, the status quo is morally unacceptable.”
“The primary need is to provide a secure path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented persons already in this country,” the Massachusetts bishops say. “Proposals which offer less than citizenship as a final objective … should be resisted.
“A complementary objective of comprehensive reform involves effective measures to improve aspects of the security of the nation’s borders,” they say, but this “should not be used to prevent relief for those presently without citizenship.
“Immigration reform should also be guided by the objective of family reunification,” the bishops add. “The stability of the family, based on a man, woman, and children, is as necessary to protect children of immigrants as it is for all of the citizens of this diverse nation.”
The bishops say welcoming the immigrant is central to Catholics’ beliefs and lived in its institutions. Catholic moral principles and convictions about dignity, human rights, and the unity of the family are the foundations of the Church’s advocacy for reform, they say.
Immigrants often come from poverty and upheaval, with hopes of what America can be for them and their families, the statement continues. The Church seeks to help provide care and resources for their integration into American society.
Asked how the statement affects the local Church, Bishop McManus said there is a large immigrant population in the diocese and many people might be undocumented.
But he said he did not see much change for Church agencies, as they already provide services according to Catholic moral teaching. They respect human dignity and try to serve people; they do not ask whether they are here legally.
“We certainly don’t condone the breaking of our laws,” he said. But now that immigrants are here, what should be done? Many are taken advantage of and enter the country illegally, in highly dangerous ways, he said.
The United States is a country of immigrants, and citizens must be sensitive to the fact that people from other countries want to come here “as did our ancestors,” he said.
Bishop McManus called for individuals to examine their consciences in response to the statement. So many have a knee-jerk reaction, thinking immigrants are in the United States illegally and should be deported, thinking they are taking jobs from Americans, he said. But, he said, many are doing jobs Americans do not want.
He said he hoped the debate about this causes Catholics to ask themselves whether their reaction is rooted in prejudice or reflective of a conscience formed according to Church moral teaching.
Asked whether he wanted Catholics to do anything besides reflect, Bishop McManus replied, “It’s always helpful if they can contact their representatives,” and urge them to support legislation that is in line with Catholic moral teaching.
The bishops have the responsibility to teach Church moral teaching, but don’t get into “the nuts and bolts” of how to apply it, he said. There may be several morally acceptable ways of doing that.
“Our job is not to come up with a political agenda,” he said. “That’s the job of our elected officials.”