How the Left Will Repay the Catholic Church on Immigration
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley made the news recently when he compared those of us who think our immigration laws ought to be honored with the anti-Catholic “Know-Nothings” of the nineteenth century. In the process, he aligned himself with the forces on the left that are out to destroy the Catholic Church. As a practicing Catholic myself, I will go easy on O’Malley and write off his historical gaps and odd alliances to naiveté. The good Cardinal simply may not know what fate awaits those who think they can dance with the devil and walk away unscathed.
A few years back I was doing research for my book, What’s the Matter With California, I found myself in downtown Los Angeles with an hour to kill between appointments. So I decided to check out the city’s controversial new $200 million cathedral, a clunky modernist structure with all the spiritual allure of a grain elevator. Given the cathedral’s $3 per 20-minute parking fee, I had cash enough for only about three “Our Fathers” and a “Glory Be.”
I emerged from the parking garage right in front of a press table. “Are you here for the press conference?” asked the woman manning it. “Yea, sure,” I answered. Dressed as I was in a sport jacket, and looking semi-respectable, I signed in and got my press pass. I still had no idea what the press conference was about.
I walked up another flight of stairs to a courtyard and saw about a dozen TV cameras arrayed in a semi-circle around a podium. “What’s going on?” I asked one of the cameramen, a generally more trustworthy media breed than the producers and reporters.
“Cardinal Mahony is going to speak on illegal immigration,” he said. “When?” I asked. “In about ten minutes.” OK, I thought. I can hang around. As it happened, the Cardinal did not speak. He sent instead auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala. The good Bishop surrounded himself with a few union organizers and about twenty chubby, confused-looking workers, most of them wearing T-Shirts that read, “Justice for janitors, SEIU local 1877.” They were all part of what was called the “We Are America Coalition.”
The Bishop explained that on May 1, “International Worker’s Day,” the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would instruct its parishes to ring their church bells at 5 P.M. “as a symbol of solidarity” with workers and immigrants. On that same day Catholic schools throughout the diocese would stage various “teach in” activities to help students “gain an understanding” of immigration issues. Church leaders meanwhile would march down Wilshire Boulevard to “demand” that Congress pass “just and humane” legislation. Although the Bishop did not say so, the LA rally would likely be the greatest gathering of Hispanics on International Worker’s Day outside of Havana, May 1 being the Marxist 4th of July.
The star speaker was one Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. She railed about “death and destruction” in Iraq, the need for universal health care, a higher minimum wage and a smorgasbord of other happening causes. The other union organizers followed Huerta with their take on “just and humane.” To them it meant “genuine legalization now.”
These folks knew full well that they had not a prayer of getting the whole legal enchilada, but that was just the point. The hard core hoped to create from the discontent a permanent revolutionary cadre. The soft core would satisfy themselves with millions of new Democrats. “Today we march,” declared the banners. “Tomorrow we vote.”
If nothing else, the LA Catholic Church managed to stir up a new wave of anti-Catholicism in Southern California and beyond. More than a few people with whom I spoke discerned a pecuniary motive in the Church’s position. They argued that the Church needed to recruit new Hispanic troops to help pay for the cathedral and for the legal costs stemming from sundry sex scandals, real and imagined.
Motives, however, are rarely as simple as money. On the question of the church’s motives, one local Catholic explained how the noisy “peace and justice” cliques within the church seized a new opportunity to lure the Church leftward. As she explained, these cliques were attempting to negate the rightward drift of practicing Catholics on life issues by elevating workers’ rights to a comparable status. In the 2000 election, she noted, they tried the same tactic with the death penalty.
The problem for the P&J crowd is that the Catholic Church considers abortion “always morally evil” -- “murder” in fact -- but has no official position on immigration, legal or otherwise. One can read all four gospels and every encyclical ever written without encountering a single “undocumented immigrant” swimming across the River Jordan. Serious Catholics treat the hierarchy’s showy preference for immigration issues over life issues as some sort of Job-like test of their fidelity.
I had absolutely no intention of saying anything at the press conference. But with the woman’s lucid argument still resonating in my head, I could not resist the urge to inject a note of realism into the Q & A happy talk that followed the speeches.
“Bishop,” I blurted out, “what do you say to those Catholics troubled by your alliance with these left-leaning groups given their historic affection for abortion rights?”
The Bishop looked at me as if I had just peed on his shoe. “What are you talking about?” he scoffed. As respectful as I try to be to my Catholic clergy, I did not appreciate the public dissing. “Let me tell you what I mean,” I answered and elaborated in more detail what I had already said.
“This isn’t about left or right,” he finally answered. “This is about justice.”
“Bishop,” I smiled, “May 1st? International Worker’s Day?”
I had expected the other reporters to give me the evil eye, but they did not. My question seemed to remind them of the role that reporters used to play, “Bishop,” said the next fellow. “You keep saying that the Church is supporting immigration. Isn’t this really about illegal immigration?” I did not have time to listen to the answer. I had a 12 o’clock appointment across town, and I had already spent $9.00 on parking.
A few months later the unions repaid the Catholic Church for its support in a way that left me feeling much more insightful than I actually am. The Los Angeles Times summarized the issue succinctly enough: “California's leading union organization, bucking organized labor's long-standing neutrality on the issue of abortion, is for the first time taking a strong stand in favor of abortion rights.”
Specifically, the union asked its 2.1 million members to reject Proposition 85. This initiative would merely have required abortionists to honor the standards of ear-piercers and aspirin dispensers and get parents’ permission before going to work on their daughters.
Spearheading the union assault on parental rights was none other than Dolores Huerta, star of the press conference I had attended at the Cathedral. As the Times noted, Huerta, “a Roman Catholic,” had persuaded a pro-choice group to put its many interns to work passing out pro-abortion propaganda to the union delegates before the vote was taken. The union support proved crucial in defeating Prop 85 by a narrow 53 to 47 margin.
Said Tod Tamberg, an Archdiocesan spokesman, “It doesn't preclude us from working together on those areas where we do share common concerns." The “it” in question is the union’s decision to sanction what the church considers to be murder. In the battle for the Hispanic soul, the Church hierarchy had already surrendered, and God only knows why.
As a postscript, Bishop Zavala resigned a few years later after acknowledging he had fathered two children.