Bishop: Deny Communion to Border Agents. It’s a ‘Life Issue.’

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Is enforcing U.S. immigration law a moral evil that demands excommunication? Or would a new proposal politicize the Eucharist, strengthen organized crime, and hurt even more migrant children?

Roman Catholics must face these questions after Bishop Edward Weisburger of Tucson suggested “canonical penalties” for Border Patrol agents “involved in” separating children from their parents.

He told his brother bishops at the USCCB’s biannual meeting in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday that he makes this suggestion “in light of the canonical penalties that are there for life issues,” raising the issue to the level of abortion-on-demand. This would make a “prophetic statement” and further “the salvation of these people’s souls,” he said.

To discourage the abuse of immigration laws, especially fraudulent asylum clams, the Trump administration has curtailed the previous “catch-and-release” policy. Children caught illegally entering the U.S. with an adult are held separately until a final decision is reached. While the conditions of their surroundings are disputed, these are the facts faithful people need to ponder about this moral issue:

  1. Asylum laws are being abused.

Asylum laws shelter individuals facing persecution due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Victims of domestic abuse or gang violence – as sympathetic as they may be – do not qualify, since many could find relief without leaving their country.

However, the Obama administration redefined them as a social group and released them, especially those with children. Predictably, the number of asylum hearings skyrocketed from 4,000 in 2009 to 73,000 in 2016 – with a backlog topping the hundreds of thousands. The fact that half of all asylum-seekers released do not show up for their court hearing suggests economic migrants seek the system as an illegal “backdoor” that rewards misrepresenting one’s status, at the expense of victims of true persecution. This triggered the Trump administration’s response.

  1. Asylum-seekers can avoid detention and separation.

Immigrants can avoid separation from their children by applying for asylum before they reach the U.S., or by entering with a legal visa. “Individual children are separated from their parents only when those parents cross the border illegally and are arrested,” according to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

  1. ICE lacks the facilities to keep families together.

ICE operates three family detention facilities, which can accommodate 3,326 people. Border Patrol agents captured nearly three-times as many “family units” breaking immigration laws in May alone – 59,113 since last October. “We can’t have children with parents who are in incarceration,” said Azar. Thus, most children must either be released with their families as a unit or held separately from their parents.

  1. Entering the U.S. illegally benefits human smugglers and crime syndicates.

Pathways to the U.S. are either operated or controlled by international criminal gangs. “An understanding exists among transnational criminal organizations, smugglers and individuals seeking transport that trying to cross the border independently is not an option,” ICE explained recently. The gangs are paid for allowing this transit through “their” territory. They then use a portion of the proceeds to “fuel their other criminal enterprises.”

  1. Illegal immigration exposes children to life-threatening danger.

Human smugglers care about human life less than the federal government; thus, they make poor babysitters. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen recounted how agents found a three-year-old El Salvadoran child abandoned by coyotes as an example of indifference and neglect.

However, by far the most vile crime in which these organizations and other criminals are engaged is the exploitation and trafficking of children,” Hanen wrote, “as it takes advantage of children and subjects them to violence, extortion, forced labor, sexual assault, or prostitution.” (Emphasis in original.)

The effect of overly lenient U.S. immigration laws is “to encourage parents to put their minor children in perilous situations subject to the whims of evil individuals.”

Thus, violating U.S. immigration laws funds the breaking of other laws and strengthens the criminal syndicates that many asylum-seekers are fleeing in the first place. The Obama-era release policy for those accompanied by minors induced parents to loan or rent out their children to criminals seeking to enter the U.S. – bringing the crime that migrants are fleeing into their new homeland.

Amnesty advocates are right: Immigration is a life issue, but not in the way they imagine.

But does the goal of stopping human trafficking justify this means?

Parents and children should not be separated except out of necessity. But if a parent is violating the law through duplicitous means (lying about persecution), one could argue the offending parent has temporarily forfeited custody.

This applies to U.S. citizens who are accused of abuse or neglect (often erroneously), who must watch their children taken in by Child Protective Services (in whose custody they are sometimes abused horribly).

Should Bishops deny Communion to border agents for doing their duty?

Whatever one thinks of the current child detention policy, it certainly does not cross the threshold of immoral behavior that demands excommunication.

“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,” wrote Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then-Cardinal Ratzinger) in the document “Worthiness to Receive.”

Even a Catholic “at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war … would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.”

Both of these issues are better established in the Magisterium than the de novo moral orthodoxy on the best way to house illegal aliens.

Excommunicating border agents would be precisely what liberal critics accuse pro-life Catholics of doing: weaponizing the Eucharist for political ends.

Nonetheless, Bishop Weisburger’s inquiry has rendered an invaluable service beyond the bounds of the Roman Church: He has made clear that a merciful ministry and spiritual healing demand canonical penalties be imposed against those “involved in” violating “life issues.”

By suggesting excommunication over such a new, undeveloped, and apparently prudential issue as this, he highlights the far greater injustice that Catholic clergy do not withhold the Body of Christ from those violating clear-cut moral issues, especially abortion.

We look forward to this being raised at the next USCCB meeting “for the salvation of these people’s souls” and the integrity of the episcopal witness.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

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Rev. Ben Johnson is senior editor of the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website, and an Eastern Orthodoax priest. His views are his own.

34 Comments

  1. The most interesting part of this issue is that it shows that if the US Bishops wanted abortion stopped they would have stopped it years ago. They would deny communion to people who cooperate with immigration enforcement but not for people who cooperate with abortion. Very telling.

    • ONE bishop of one small diocese has called for this to be CONSIDERED. Dozens of US bishops, including archbishops and cardinals, have publicly announced that they ALREADY excommunicate anyone who scandalously supports abortion through their public actions, and have ordered such people not to approach for Communion in their dioceses or they will be refused. Unfortunately they have not yet been able to persuade the rest of the US bishops to resolve to rigorously enforce this on a national basis.

  2. Rob Schroeder on

    This story relies on false statistics to establish a premise at odds with Catholic social teaching.
    I believe this website doesn’t allow the posting of multiple links as a spam issue, so I will be using abbreviations for links to the actual data.
    – The author’s data on asylum hearing trends is false. The number of asylum hearings accepted in 2009 was 39,279, not 4,000. Further, this number is the lowest number in a long term sample. In 2007, for example, there were 57,139 hearings accepted; 53,904 in 2005.
    https(colon)//www(dot)justice(dot)gov/sites/default/files/eoir/legacy/2010/03/04/fy09syb(dot)pdf
    – In 2016, the number of asylum hearings accepted was not 73,000 but rather 65,218. The author categorizing this as a “skyrocketing total” makes sense as long as you only look at 2016 as a data point. The data points for FY 12-15 are all equal to or lower than totals from FY 05-08, for example. One data point does not indicate a trend. However, it is true that from FY 12-16, asylum hearings were on the rise, but it seems rather foolhardy to say hearings skyrocketed from 39,279 in ’09 to 65,218 in ’16, when hearings were at 57,139 in ’07. “Skyrocketing” only takes place if you set artificial boundaries for the data.
    https(colon)//www(dot)justice(dot)gov/eoir/page/file/fysb16/download
    – The Department of Justice describes an abandoned hearing as “The disposition of an application for relief if an applicant fails to appear for a court hearing, or fails to provide, without good cause, any required information within the time frame the immigration court allows.” The number of abandoned hearings compared to total asylum hearings is not half, and it’s not close to half. In 2016, of 65,218 hearings received, there were 2,133 abandoned hearings, or 3.2%. For FY 12-15, abandoned hearings ranged from 2.7% to 3%.
    https(colon)//www(dot)justice(dot)gov/eoir/file/asylum-statistics/download
    – The author incorrectly states that immigrants can apply for asylum before traveling to the United States.
    According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, asylum can only be applied for people in the United States or those at a port of entry.
    https(colon)//www(dot)uscis(dot)gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum
    – The author claims the Trump administration’s response was triggered by skyrocketing hearings and asylum seekers failing to show en masse for hearings. Since the actual statistics prove these claims to be false, Catholic social teaching makes it clear that the Trump administration’s response is morally wrong.
    The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People states “A person applying for asylum should not be interned unless it can be demonstrated that he or she represents a real danger, or there are compelling reasons to think that he or she will not report to the competent authorities for due examination of his or her case.”
    http(colon)//www(dot)vatican(dot)va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/corunum/documents/rc_pc_corunum_doc_25061992_refugees_en.html
    Clearly, the author’s claim that asylum seekers are not showing up for hearings is not true. Rather, the stats indicate the exact opposite. Thus, it seems the Trump administration has very little ground to inter asylum seekers unless they prove to be a danger to society.

    • An important differentiation to be made, people at the border (sure there are exceptions) are not criminals, they are refugees. Therefore, they should not be treated as criminals. When you are giving hours (sometimes as little as 24 hrs) to get your things or be killed by gangs in El Salvador, there is no time to seek asylum or request visas at the embassy. Also, the author has not idea of what it takes to even get an appointment to enter the embassy. The author has no idea how much money it takes to be able to apply for a Visa. Sometimes as much as a month salary that is if people didn’t have to pay rent and bills and food and clothing. How long does it take a family to collect $160/person with no assurance that it will be approved. Most of the time individuals show up and the officials at embassy deny their application without any explanation or opportunity to present additional evidence. If it was so easy to get a visa or appy for asylum don’t you think people will do it instead of putting their life in danger through the road to the border.

      • Let Mexico take in those whom you claim are “refugees”, CCS. Your “refugees” entered Mexico before they reached the USA.

        Where are Mexico’s bishops?

        • Amen. The author is correct. Trump is correct. God save us from leftist bishops who use the cudgel of Matt. 25-31 to attack every issue they oppose.

          • Our Lord Jesus tell us how to get to Heaven in those verses. If you prefer to be separated from Him, then ignore them.

    • Steven F Hotho on

      So, anyone presenting themselves at a port of entry into the USA, claiming asylum, must be admitted, according to Catholic social teaching? How could an authority ‘prove’ that an asylum-seeker is a danger to the society in which he/she is proposing to enter? Interesting idea! Some country should try it sometime, maybe Mexico.

      • Rob Schroeder on

        In this day and age of mass data collection by the NSA, CIA, etc., I don’t think it would be very difficult to run a background check on asylum seekers detained for crossing the border illegally. Likewise, the US government could collaborate with the governments of other nations to access databases of information. These are just ideas off the top of my head; I’m not an immigration/asylum expert, just someone who was interested in fact-checking the numbers that were put out there.

        • Unfortunately, “data collection”, or even simple record-keeping, is not something that many governments do well, if at all. (It’s not even necessarily done well up here, either, as the parents of any 3-yr-old whose name is on the Do Not Fly list could affirm.) verifying identity just..takes…time, and cannot be done effectively on the fly at the border.

    • Jonathan Brumley on

      In addition to Rob’s points, it seems this article carries the assumption that the majority of asylum seekers are “lying about persecution”.

      As Christians, we should support asylum for people fleeing domestic abuse and drug violence. If the laws do not support this, they should be amended.

      The idea that these people could get help in their own country is completely hypothetical and ignores the reality of the situation in these countries.

    • You dont think with gangs taking over the home countries there is a good chance many asylum seekers are in gangs. The Church also teaches the moral duty of leaders to protect their citizens and be advocates first for their interests. When Catholic moral teaching is imposed by punitive laws and weaponization of the Sacraments, it ceases to form the indiviual in holiness as the walk toward holiness is an act of the will.

  3. Your article does not even attempt to present a balanced point of view. In short, it is the job of Catholics to have compassion and protect all Gods children, is it not? Supporting an administration’s policies that separates children from mothers is torture. That is not the job of a Catholic.

    • I’m required to protect my own children first, last and always. What the USCCB wants means chaos. Sorry, I don’t go there. I have responsibilities the bishops do not have and do not give a damn about.
      An orderly system which does not allow M13 and other criminals into my country and protects American citizens and still offers opportunity to immigrants is what is needed.
      Compassion begins with family, neighborhood, city, state and country and only then to strangers whose own bishops, politicians and family have failed them.

    • They separate the children to protect them. The alternative is to place them with tons of adults who are strangers where abuse will occur. Adult facilities are not equipped to meet the needs of children.

  4. Nice run down of stats…but whats your counterpoint to the intent of the article?

    The point of the article is to show the continued ridiculous posturing of an apostate episcopate.

    Immigration is equal to abortion…is a right to life issue?!? Indeed…maybe when pigs fly. Moreover there is ample evidence of risk by allowing these folks in unfettered.

    Nice stats tho…

    • Rob Schroeder on

      Hi Joe:

      Catholic teaching offers two reasons why asylum seekers should be detained: they are a danger to society or a flight risk. As I wrote, immigration authorities should demonstrate why an asylum seeker is a danger to society. As we clearly know from the Trump administration’s aims, this is not what they are doing. Jeff Sessions has explicitly stated, along with Stephen Miller, that asylum seekers are being detained to discourage people from crossing the border to seek asylum. This does not fit within Catholic social teaching. Oddly, the author does not note this.
      Likewise, the supposed “flood” of asylum seekers that the US just can’t handle is simply false, as the Department of Justice statistical yearbooks amply demonstrate. There is certainly great variance, but until we gain more data, 2016 appears to be a year of variance rather than a dramatic upward trend as the author falsely claims.

      • Catholic teaching on our moral duties toward others is a matter of personal conscience. Our duty as Catholics is to transmit the faith to our children, be transformed in personal holiness – become another Christ, and to serve those in our midst. There is nothing that compels us to forcibly impose this on others in the form of taxation or punitive law in our churches or our country. Catholics increasingly confuse this personal duty with legal obligations through state initiatives, policies, and actions. A Catholic can give his full ten percent to United Way and totally ifnore the family member whose at his home begging for a place to stay. Another never formally donates but has someone sleeping on his couch all the time. Which path do you think sanctifies them?

  5. Deny some one the Eucharist for doing their job following present laws is disgraceful, when it is given to
    Catholics, like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden who support abortion. This idea in itself is scandalous!

    • Mel Livatino on

      The bishop is a hypocrite. And I’m not going to waste valuable time explaining why when so many comments already do that. I’ve watched a number of parishes deny a homeless woman a place to sleep and a meal because it was against the rules — and she slept on the streets and in the cold. When this bishop wants to take in and care for these illegal immigrants he can speak. Right now he’s just a cleric who gets to wear some red and posture.

  6. Julia Greene Thomas on

    Senators give speeches in favor for abortion, the head of Planned Parenthood spoke at a prestigious Catholic college in the east but has anyone been excommunicated from Holy Communion? Sad, sad, sad.

    • Barry Gabriel on

      We don’t know if any of them have been excommunicated. These things are now private, and the recipients of the formal excommunication more often do not take it seriously. Also, having or counseling an abortion, if you are a Catholic, is an automatic excommunication. Again, so many don’t take it seriously.

  7. Not Complicated on

    If the author believes these family separations are Christ-like then those who participate should be allowed to take the Body of Christ. This is simple.

    If family separation is not Christ-like, then their participation separates them from the Lord no matter how many times they accept the Body of Christ.

    • Again, they separate them because the parents are going into facilities with adults where it is unsafe for the children to be. Furthermore the facilities are not equipped to meet the needs of the children. The parents made this decision.

  8. Patricia Hefferan on

    Another endless litany of scare tactics on the part of the liberal left. They are forever distorting facts and clouding issues. I will keep this simple as it wastes my time to respond to these idiotic comments.

    No I did not say this before. Check your facts..

  9. Just wondering how our Catholic Church justify’s Democrat Senator’s BLOCKING PAIN UNBORN CHILD PROTECTION ACT -hm… ARE THEY ie Democrat’s RECEIVING COMMUNION? WHY aren’t we talking about the dangers of bringing children through across to the treacherous border?? A Border patrol Officer who was ambushed and killed ? The gangs ?? The children sold into human slavery???

    • check your facts. children cannot be kept in adult detention buildings, by law, so they are in separate special housing units (approved by Congress) run by child professionals with nurses, therapists, cooks, books, toys, air conditioning!

  10. just a lay catholic on

    The bishops are addicted to government social justice dollars…their budgets are tied to the federal government.

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