Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Steve Bannon Might Be Right About The US Bishops And DACA

Charlie Rose interviews Steve Bannon on CBS's 60 Minutes

For people who spend time in the pews actually practicing Catholicism, Steve Bannon’s remarks about “the Catholic Church” and DACA , his contention that the bishops want unlimited immigration as a means for keeping the pews filled, is not wrong. Nor is it a newsflash. Is there any doubt that the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth demands that Catholics turn away from supporting DACA? No. Is the U.S. bishops’s support for DACA something new? No. Is it consistent with their longstanding way of regarding immigrants? No. Do progressive Roman Catholics, and those seriously engaged in social justice ministry embrace a “Christ without borders” vision? Generally speaking, they do. Does “the Catholic Church” as a whole support the continuance of DACA? Hell no. The Catholic Church is various and Catholics are not really all that obedient. As for the USBCC (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), though it is excruciating to say so—Steve Bannon is right.

My (non-Catholic) husband escorted me to mass recently. We heard a particularly brilliant homilist present his take on the day's Gospel. The DACA question pertained. The priest preached on sacrifice, suffering, the sin of xenophobia and the mandate to welcome the stranger. "Will he get in trouble for that sermon?" the husband asked. "Oh, no!" I answered. "The U.S. Bishops love immigrants." I gesticulated, cupped my upturned hand,  my thumb circulating against the four fingers to indicate: 'Show me the money.' "They have held that position for a long time. "It's the one thing they're progressive about. I believe they're on the right side for the wrong reason."

A priest once told me that one of his favorite aspects of the Catholic Church is how “messy’ the church is. Catholics are, contrary to popular opinion, not all that obedient. On the matter of immigration, there are factions and outliers. Even as they promulgate bigotry on other fronts, the U.S. Bishops have long been solidly pro-immigration.They need look no further than the Gospels for their reasons: the Beatitudes.

But if you pay attention to Roman Catholic outreach throughout the world, you will note that the hierarchy has long been pinning their hopes for "growth"---by which I mean both "increase the fold" growth and economic growth---on China, India and African nations. North America and that Western Europe are hemorrhaging Catholics.  

I was lucky enough to be traveling extensively in Western Europe in 2015 and 2016. While in Ireland I noticed that even during Holy Week in Dublin Catholic churches were half-empty. Catholics in Spain, and Romans in Rome, seemed to view church as a kind of museum designed for  baptisms, weddings and funerals. Over and over again while attending Sunday morning mass in Spain, I found that I, in my 50s, was one of the youngest people on the Communion line. Finding any mass in Spain that wasn’t lousy with Opus Dei Catholics was impossible. (Sorry, I am a staunch anti-Phalangist) and obtaining a seat up front for Easter’s Mass of the Resurrection in Seville’s Cathedral in 2015 was a cinch. This is one woman’s anecdotal sampling, but it confirms what I read and have been hear in twenty years of working in Catholic ministry. The church in Western Europe and North America is shrinking, and the hierarchs have been thinking globally for decades.

In the two dioceses that serve New York City where I live, undocumented folks often rely heavily upon the social justice outreach of the church. Newcomers to our nation find help with housing, education and medical care through the church. Many of the Roman Catholic Churches in New York where built by immigrants and the poorest of them often made enormous financial sacrifices to support their churches. The tabernacle in the New York City church I attend is ornamented with the engagement ring diamonds of pious Irish immigrants. As was the case with my own Irish-born grandparents, immigrants in the church frequently wind up devout and fervently determination to 'pay it forward,' so to speak. In a religion in which non-compliance with doctrine has become something of norm, Catholics who obey, who are, perhaps, afraid not to comply, are the best bet for keeping parishes flush and pews populated. Immigrants often make parish life the center for their lives, and rear their children in the church. Tithing churches are still rare in New York City, but the tithing parishes have Spanish language mass. Undocumented Catholics certainly do not make churches rich, but their allegiance probably does prove profitable in the short, long term, and even the poorest of them often tithe exuberantly.

While traveling in the United States, I often wind up worshipping at masses celebrated in Spanish. I have noticed at these masses, that Latin-American, Spanish-speaking adults (women mores than men) often join the queue for Communion but decline to receive the Eucharist. They approach the altar with their arms crossed upon their chest. This signals their intention to opt out of the sacrament, but receive a blessing. Why don't they receive Communion? They have broken some church law. Maybe they live with a common law spouse and have not been married in the Church, or use contraception. Perhaps they have had abortions. Although there are pastoral resources in the church which assist Catholics with these situations, fear and language barriers often keep the undocumented among them isolated from life in the sacraments. Sometimes such fear promotes such obedience. Whatever its causes, the obedience does not go unnoticed. Bishops and pastors know it can be exploited to useful affect. 

Furthermore, as a consequence of the priest shortage, many priests are immigrants. They arrive with help from the Vatican and obtain proper documentation, but they too have helped to shape the bishops’ disposition toward immigrants.

Progressive Catholics in the post Vatican II Church have always adopted a “Christ without borders” ethos. To their great credit, Roman Catholic diocesan schools in New York City and other U.S. cities have a long history of scrupulously and expertly educating the children of immigrants. They tend to adopt a “What Would Jesus Do?” approach. They, for the most part, are likely opposed to eradicating of DACA---and for the right reasons. Despite that, their hierarchy (the bishops) exploits them.

On the other hand, white, politically conservative and moderate Catholics have tended to focus their politicizing in other directions, the anti-abortion effort, for example. The ultra-conservative fringe---the Traditionalists, the Legionaries, the Church Militant movement---they want “the wall” and a strong leader. Many Roman Catholics aren’t worried about getting through the camel’s eye. They want low taxes and crime-free neighborhoods, and see a crackdown on illegal immigration as one way of obtaining it. Theirs is the "render to Caesar" perspective. 

I believe that the “Christ without borders” is at the heart of Catholic teaching. I do not doubt that some of the U.S. bishops also believe this. But when Charlie Rose and Steve Bannon talk about Cardinal Timothy Dolan, they talk about a man who has hidden money to keep it from being seized for damages/ awards in cases (clergy) sexual assault cases. survivors. They about a prelate who threatened to defund Catholic Charities in the course of a DOMA-related tantrum. (Catholic Charities helps the poor---many of them immigrants, documented and not, to obtain food, clothing, shelter and basic services ). They speak of a cardinal who knew who who alleged sexual assailant and racist Donald Trump was, chuckled at all his jokes and allowed his brother priests to electioneer for the neo-Nazi from their parish pulpits.

Dolan is a big defender of capitalism. Maybe Dolan and his ilk do care about immigrants, but he also cares about the bottom line, and like his brother bishop on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York's Opus Dei bishop, (of Brooklyn and Queens) Nicholas DiMarzio, he’s focused on “the New Evangelization.” If one studies the pattern of closing schools and parishes, one quickly sees a tendency on he part of these bishops to obtain as many eggs as possible before killing the golden geese. DiMarzio merged poor churches filled with immigrants and other poor folk so as to build himself a second cathedral, who collaborated closely with politicians who spearheaded real estate development agencies (some of) which displaced hundreds of poor and immigrant residents living near his two cathedrals in downtown Brooklyn. DiMarzio is fond of waxing prosaic on "the new evangelization," and immigrants are part of the plan. Does Brooklyn's bishop care about immigrants? Maybe. But not so much as he cares about his piece of the action. They speak of a man who has always spoken out of two sides of his mouth on the matter of LGBTQ Catholics. Indeed the disposition Cardinal Dolan has adopted toward LGBTQ Catholics reveals much about the way economics plays into some of the U.S. Bishops’ social justice perspectives. Why is there currently so robust a push to keep LGBTQ Catholics in he pews even when they are still technically viewed as “disordered,” unable to marry and discouraged /prohibited from receiving the sacraments if they are sexually active? Their lifestyles are bad, but their money is good? It is one thing to speak on behalf of the stranger, the marginalized, the subjugated; and quite another to make the "word" (s) flesh.

I’m no fan of Steve Bannon’s, but even a broken clock…


Michele Somerville 9/7/17 Cambridge, MA

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