Pro and con on executive actions

The relationship between the Church and the state is often a complicated one, in part because the state is not monolithic (the Church is not either, although when each of us are truly acting as the Church, we are the Mystical Body of Christ, with Jesus as our Head, guiding us in how we interact with the world, called to be the Sacrament of Salvation for it).

Over the last month one part of the state, the Obama Administration, has engaged in some actions which the Church favors (we may not approve of the means, although we do the ends), while engaging in others which we oppose (both means and ends). 

In the first category would be the executive order regarding undocumented immigrants. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) would have preferred a new law, bringing comprehensive immigration reform, but since the last time that seemed likely was back in 2007 (when the Kennedy-McCain bill failed to pass), the bishops were happy that at least something was being done.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, welcomed the order and said, “We have a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, and the disadvantaged. Each day, the Catholic Church in the United States, in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes, witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families, when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other. As pastors, we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”

Bishop Elizondo said that the Church still would like a law in this area. “I strongly urge Congress and the president to work together to enact permanent reforms to the nation’s immigration system for the best interests of the nation and the migrants who seek refuge here. We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB, also welcomed the order and put our position in context: “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law. As Pope Francis said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved.’”

Not every executive action has been welcomed by the USCCB. On December 3 the U.S. Department of Labor issued a “final rule” to implement an executive order the president issued back on July 21. The USCCB responded with a joint statement by four committee chairmen: Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the Committee of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

They wrote, “The regulations published on December 3 implement the objectionable executive order that President Obama issued in July to address what the administration has described as ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ discrimination in employment by federal contractors. [W]e note the following initially: Our Church teaches that ‘[e]very sign of unjust discrimination’ against those who experience same-sex attraction ‘should be avoided’ (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” CCC 2358) — but it appears on an initial reading that these regulations would prohibit far more than that ‘unjust discrimination.’ In particular, they appear also to prohibit employers’ religious and moral disapproval of same-sex sexual conduct, which creates a serious threat to freedom of conscience and religious liberty, because ‘[u]nder no circumstances’ may Catholics approve of such conduct (CCC 2357). Additionally, the regulations advance the false ideology of ‘gender identity,’ which ignores biological reality and harms the privacy and associational rights of contractors and their employees. In justice, the administration should not exclude contractors from federal contracting simply because they have religious or moral convictions about human sexuality and sexual conduct that differ from the views of the current governmental authorities.”

Some might try to counterpose this statement with what the pope said this week to La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. It is helpful to read the actual text. He said, “No one spoke about homosexual marriage in the synod, it did not occur to us. What we did talk about was when a family has a homosexual son or daughter, how one teaches about that, how one deals [with this situation], how one helps this family to go forward in this somewhat unprecedented situation. That is, in the synod the family was spoken about and about homosexual persons in relation to their families, because this is a reality which all the time we encounter in the confessionals: a father and a mother who has a son or daughter like this. I dealt with this various times in Buenos Aires. Well, we have to see how we can help this father or this mother so that they can accompany this son or daughter. This is was the synod touched on.” 

In that quote we see one of Pope Francis’ favorite verbs, “accompany.” He repeatedly stresses to us that Jesus accompanies us in this life — we need to open our eyes and accompany Him in the various forms He presents Himself (in the Eucharist, in our neighbors, etc.). We need to accompany these parents and their children, showing them Christ’s love, which will then help them accept Jesus’ teachings on sexual morality as something good, instead of just a list of prohibitions. The American bishops oppose the Labor Department rule because it goes beyond welcoming people to meddling in the inner workings of the Church agencies which Bishop Elizondo mentioned above, something which the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2012 Hosanna-Tabor decision said was unconstitutional. 

The Church does not “belong” to a political party, but to Christ, and is called upon by Him to testify to the truth (as Jesus said to another representative of state authority, Pontius Pilate). May we work together to promote the truth of the dignity of the human person in civil society.

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