The Catholic Position on Immigration: An Open Letter to Bishop Conley.

Jesse Russell

The Catholic Position on Immigration: An Open Letter to Bishop Conley. July 22, 2017.

Your Excellency, The specter of schism is haunting the Catholic Church. There has not been an emergency in the Church of this magnitude since the Arian crisis. The reign of Pope Francis has caused incalculable scandal and damage to the morale of the Catholic faithful, and all of the positive effects of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI are being rapidly undone. Your Excellency’s diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, however, is a refuge for priests, religious, and Catholic families sincerely trying to live the Catholic faith in its fullness. Your continued celebration of the traditional Latin Mass is a brave witness as bishops who support the ancient Mass are being removed, demoted, or censured.

The recently constructed Thomas Aquinas chapel at the University of Nebraska is an exquisite jewel in the mighty heartland of our country. While many of these qualities of the diocese of Lincoln are attributable to your predecessor, you yourself are deserving of much praise.  It was thus with some dismay that I read Your Excellency’s March 3 letter “Standing in Solidarity.” With deep and sincere respect for your person and office, I would like to note that not only is Your Excellency’s understanding of Catholic teaching on immigration misguided, but it also serves, in the end, to further alienate patriotic American Catholics from the Church.

In your letter, Your Excellency, you rightfully note that Americans have a duty to uphold the law, and many of your statements are intelligent and balanced; however, the general thrust of your letter seems to suggest allowing a very large number of immigrants to remain in our country. You write, “As Catholics, we must continue to call for real, comprehensive, safe, and just immigration reform. But we cannot accept the panacea of mass detention and deportation. Americans, immigrants, and the Church should expect something better than that.” This statement seems to be the standard boiler-plate line of the American bishops: “yes, ideally, immigration laws should be enforced, but it would really be too heartless to enforce.” It is this view that we should surrender our laws out of compassion for others and even at the peril the destruction of our national identity and culture that seems out of tune with the traditional Catholic understanding of immigration.

Your work is largely drawn from Pope Pius XII’s “Exsul Familia Nazarethana”, which was written in response to immigration after the Second World War. While the principles of the document are eternal, the concrete situation he is describing is limited to a specific place and time. Pope Pius speaks of the Holy Family as the model for “every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.” Is this really, Your Excellency, the description of Mexican immigrants who come to the United States? For the past thirty years, America has been a drop off for Mexico’s undesirables who come here not escaping starvation poverty or political persecution but rather to get rich or die trying.  Furthermore, Mexican and Mexican-American politicians have repeatedly affirmed that they view immigration as a way of reclaiming not only the Southwest but conquering the entire nation for La Raza. This is not the same situation as Eastern Europeans and Germans fleeing the Soviet Union.

Secondly and much more importantly, the entire point of Exsul is to ensure that migrants are provided with “spiritual care.”  This spiritual care of migrants of various types is the entire focus of Pius XII’s historical overview of the history of the Church’s efforts to support displaced people as well as pilgrims. His Holiness praises those missionaries who labored to convert African slaves and lauds Blessed Vincent Pallotti, who was “[u]rged on by the love of souls and eager to Strengthen the Catholic Faith of Italian immigrants in England…”, as well as St. Francis Cabrini for her “missionary undertakings” among Italians who had migrated to the United States. Again, the focus is almost entirely on spiritual care of pilgrims and migrants, and not about unqualified and unconditional open borders. Even such statements as, “We have tried earnestly to produce in the minds of all people a sympathetic approach towards exiles and refugees who are our needier brothers,” do not translate into an unqualified support of large-scale immigration into one’s country.

It is further difficult to see in the notorious “right to migrate” section of the encyclical, how such a right can be interpreted as presenting a country with an obligation to accept massive immigration. Drawing from an earlier speech in which he quotes Leo XIII, Pius twelve describes a situation in which one country that is overcrowded sends migrants to under populated country that needs workers. This scenario clearly describes European migration to the New World, not a situation in which a Mexican man moves from rural Jalisco to Houston, TX. In fact, the Holy Father describes situations in which a people “agree to admit new comers”, not a situation where a country is invaded by illegals. Quoting another speech of his to the American Bishops, Pius XII argues that a country can only refuse migrants for “for inadequate or unjustified reasons.” As I hope to demonstrate, there are more than adequate and justified reasons to prevent immigration into the West. The encyclical then ends with a section on the structures to provide, once again, for the spiritual care of immigrants. In all honesty, Your Excellency, I see nothing in Pius XII’s letter that would provide the moral or theological principles for urging American Catholics to let large numbers of immigrants into our country.

If we look at the other writings of popes (especially pre-conciliar popes), we see that Christians have a moral duty to support their country and cherish and protect their culture and ethnic heritage. Even in Pius XI’s letter to German Catholics “Mit Brennender Sorge,” Pius writes, “No one would think of preventing young Germans establishing a true ethnical community in a noble love of freedom and loyalty to their country.  What We object to is the voluntary and systematic antagonism raised between national education and religious duty.” The letter is not a condemnation of patriotism or ethnic solidarity; rather, the entire point of the encyclical is to critique the attempt by National Socialists to replace loyalty to the Church with loyalty to the state.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the universal doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, noted as well, quoting Isidore of Seville, that the end of law is the common good or “common benefit of the citizens.” The immigration laws, lax as they are, are meant to protect American citizens from crime, disease, terrorism, and, before the 1965 Immigration Act, were intended to protect the culture and ethnic integrity of the American people. Areas with high migrant population across Europe and America have higher crime (especially sexual assault), and poorer schools. In what way does immigration improve the common good of America or the West?

St. Thomas Aquinas further emphasizes the primacy of loyalty to one’s own people and culture before others. In his commentary on the 6th commandant, St. Thomas Aquinas prescribes preference to those of our own household. Referencing St. Augustine of Hippo, the Father of Western Christianity, the Angelic doctor writes that “we must also know that to avoid evil is in our power; but we are incapable of doing good to everyone. Thus, St. Augustine says that we should love all, but we are not bound to do good to all. But among those to whom we are bound to do good are those in some way united to us.” Thus I, as the son of Norwegian and German farmers and laborers, living among other sons and daughters of Norwegian and German farmers and laborers, have a special obligation to not only my own immediate relatives, but those members of community who share my blood, culture, and lived experience before any obligation I have to strangers who may pose a threat to my community.

St. Thomas continues, quoting from Timothy, “If any man does not take care of his own, especially of those of his house, he has denied the faith” (1 Tim 5:8). St. Thomas clearly states that he is writing of our blood relatives (and thus not anyone in need), for he states, “Now, amongst all our relatives there are none closer than our father and mother.”  So the phrase “his own” in St. Thomas Aquinas’s reading of Holy Scripture refers to those who are related to one another by blood, not some arbitrary humanistic fellow feeling or modern understanding of “personhood” or “citizenship” in which the bounds of blood and culture are dismissed.

In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas, writing on the virtue of piety, further states, “The worship due to our parents includes the worship given to all our kindred, since our kinsfolk are those who descend from the same parents, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 12). The worship given to our country includes homage to all our fellow-citizens and to all the friends of our country. Therefore piety extends chiefly to these.” Obviously, this is an infelicitous translation, using “worship,” but even if we choose a milder word, such as “reverence,” St. Thomas is arguing that we owe a deep reverence to not only our immediate family, but those of our extended family and tribe as well as our own country. Thus, again, I have a deep moral duty to revere, respect, and seek the good of those related to me by blood before any other obligations to strangers. St. Thomas further notes that piety is a type of justice, which is giving what is due; however, piety is a special, more refined and graver version of justice: “Now a thing is indebted in a special way to that which is its connatural principle of being and government. And piety regards this principle, inasmuch as it pays duty and homage to our parents and country, and to those who are related thereto.”  Thus, again, true social justice is giving preference to and seeking the support of one’s kinsman, country, and members of one’s own family before foreigners.

St. Thomas’s teaching is consonant with much of the Church’s traditional teaching on the loyalty we have to our own people before others. Also, it is just plain common sense. If the bishops in America do not come to grips with the reality that our ethnic identities are gifts from God and that Americans have not only a right, but a duty and obligation to cherish our heritage and work for our own families communities first, they will continue to alienate patriotic Americans who are leaving the Church for Eastern Orthodoxy (which has no problem with patriotism), neo-Paganism (which is, as always, a diabolical manifestation of hyper patriotism), and boring old atheism. We need our bishops to work for the common good of all people in their diocese and to follow the Church’s traditional teaching on immigration and patriotism.

Finally, in response to your litany of people with whom Your Excellency stands in solidarity, I would like to give a statement of solidarity of my own.

I stand in solidarity with every Western woman, girl, or boy who has been raped or sexual assaulted by a migrant. I stand in solidarity with any Westerner who lives in fear of migrant crime in their neighborhoods. I stand in solidarity with any Western family who has lost a loved one due to violent crime or any sort of neglect or incompetence on behalf of a migrant. I stand in solidarity with every Western child in day care or elderly person in assisted living who has been harmed or abused in any way by a migrant nurse or caregiver. Last and certainly not least, I stand in solidarity with my four children for whom I have an obligation, before God, to provide a safe and prosperous nation.

Your Servant in Christ, Jesse Russell, Ph.D.