2016 is surely one of the most divisive election years in U.S. history. But what if I told you that amid the flurry of mudslinging, one of the most explosive pieces of rhetoric came from a Roman Catholic bishop?
When asked about Donald Trump’s (and the Republican Party Platform’s) position on immigration, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas first caricaturized it in the most extreme terms as “a radical program of mass deportation” and then warned that for Catholics to support it would be “a formal cooperation with an intrinsic evil. Not unlike driving someone to an abortion clinic.”
First of all, I must point out that the bishop’s statement is not only morally wrong, but cruel. Whether he meant it to be or not, his opinion is an insult both to the Latino community in America and, for obvious reasons, to the pro-life movement—which is comprised largely of people on the political right who are likely to hold more moderate views on the issue of immigration than the bishop’s.
As I wrote at The Stream:
A 2014 NBC poll indicated only 43 percent of Latino-Americans supported President Barack Obama’s proposed executive action on amnesty for illegal immigrants. Fully 37 percent of Latinos opposed amnesty….
[What sets Latino-Americans] apart from their white fellow citizens is not that they are more progressive. Rather, what sets Latinos apart is that they are hit much harder by the cultural decay that progressivism propels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanic babies are more than twice as likely to be aborted as the unborn children of white women.
What could the bishop’s rhetoric achieve in 2016?
In his interview with the bishop, Crux’s Charles Camosy asked whether the border enforcement issue was a matter of prudential judgement or of binding Church teaching. “Prudence judges circumstances in light of principles that are rightly ranked in terms of gravity,” the bishop responded. “Keeping that in mind, circumstances are different this year.”
The bishop went on to paint a frightening picture of “mass deportations of undocumented men, women and children” who would be “marked for death” after being rounded up and thrown into “some parts of Mexico … where there is lawlessness and societal collapse.”
To support this would be “a formal cooperation with intrinsic evil. Not unlike driving someone to an abortion clinic,” the bishop concluded.
So, even as a Catholic finds the radical pro-abortion platform of the other party beyond reprehensible, there is no comfort for the conscience of a Catholic on the side of a radical program of mass deportation.
Bishop Flores’s statement is not in the least abstract. He is specifically referring to this year’s presidential election, and using his moral authority as a prince of the Church to condemn the act of voting for the pro-life ticket in 2016.
In 2016, Democrats are a threat to the preborn, but pro-lifers are not a threat to immigrants
The bishop makes light of the plight of innocent unborn children in danger of being aborted by comparing it to the plight of immigrants faced with the possibility of being required to abide by U.S. immigration laws rather than break them. This sentiment couldn’t be further from the moral truth. In addition, it couldn’t be further from the real desires of the good American Christians the bishop is meant to lead.
In 2016, Donald Trump represents the most pro-life Republican Party Platform in history, has made a number of signed pledges to back that platform’s pro-life goals, has chosen a staunchly pro-life running mate in Mike Pence, and has welcomed many of the pro-life movement’s leading lights as advisors to his campaign, including Priests for Life’s Fr. Frank Pavone, Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser, and a long list of pro-life Evangelical leaders.
Regarding immigration, the Trump camp and Republican Party Platform hold a position that bears little resemblance to the frightening, distorted picture Bishop Flores paints of a “radical,” “brutal” program that would directly cause the deaths of countless immigrants.
As Mark Krikorian writes at The Stream, the GOP Platform “calls on Americans ‘to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society.’”
These admirable – even morally essential – sentiments regarding immigrants are accompanied by a note of caution rooted perhaps in the assumption that a flood of cheap immigrant labor holds down, and even drives down, wages for U.S. citizens. ‘The greatest asset of the American economy is the American worker,’ the GOP platform states. ‘Our immigration system must protect American working families and their wages, for citizens and legal immigrants alike, in a way that will improve the economy.’
The Platform goes on to state such aims as building a wall, punishing repeat offenders against U.S. immigration law, and generally returning to a status in which our nation once again enforces its border in much the same way that virtually every other nation in the world does.
It might benefit Bishop Flores to consider that one major reason for the absence of vengeful, murderous language in the GOP Platform is that Americans are not vengeful, murderous people. Mr. Trump and the many others who had a hand in crafting the document have a vested interest in forming policy that bears some relation to what polling suggests Americans want, and poll after poll shows Americans rejecting the anti-immigrant brutality that Bishop Flores would have us believe is lurking around the corner in 2016.
As wrong as Bishop Flores is, his position comes from a powerful source; he may even have learned it in seminary.
While Bishop Flores’s equation of abortion and deportation is offensive, it’s only fair to acknowledge that it’s a view he may very well have learned from an authority figure in seminary.
The teaching has a clear source: It is the “Seamless Garment” ideology originally propagated by former President of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, a cleric whose lifework, in the words of Catholic scholar George Weigel, was marked by “a determination to position the Catholic Church as part of a liberal vital center,” despite the liberal acceptance of abortion after Roe v. Wade.
We should pray for bishops like Flores. But we should also keep in mind the future we aim to create for the unborn. Will history books honor the harsh words of bishops who put the partisan goals of Bernadin’s “liberal vital center” above the plight of the preborn?
Bishops like Flores will continue to condemn pro-life voters who disagree with the desire—which such bishops share with the pro-abortion Left—for open borders. But even as such clerics accuse us of being the moral equivalent of infanticide-enablers, we should not return fire with fire.
Rather, in these last days before the 2016 election, Catholics should prayerfully contemplate the future, resting in the conviction that history will judge in favor of those who stand with the most vulnerable—the unborn child.