Are Patriots Apostates?

I was inclined to be kindly disposed toward the incoming archbishop of Los Angeles. Archbishop Jose Gomez faces a thankless task, taking over a church that has just suffered a major persecution — one conducted by his predecessor in office. Whatever the legal cloud following him up from Texas, Archbishop Gomez was formed for the priesthood by members of Opus Dei, a worthy and much-maligned group. That much sounds promising. The state of catechesis and even of liturgy should improve in that long-suffering archdiocese — though it’s too much to hope that Archbishop Gomez will deconsecrate the $189.7 million monstrosity Catholic Angelenos call the “Rog Mahal” and sell it off for its proper use as a Sam’s Club or a slaughterhouse.

Archbishop Gomez is critical of the governance of our country. I’m fine with that. Since I started working as a pro-life activist at age eleven, I’ve dealt with a queasy cognitive dissonance, that sick twist in the gut that comes from knowing that some of our nation’s laws are at odds with basic human rights and the teachings of the Church. As I wrote in 2008:

The first time I ever saw our nation’s capital was on the March [for Life], way back in high school on a bus the Knights of Columbus rented to take us down there. Those vast, wedding cake buildings that represent the authority of the U.S. government, adorned with flags, bronze statues, bas-reliefs and grand inscriptions . . . it all seemed such a miserable sham. Those structures built out of butter cream looked to me like whited sepulchers. The Supreme Court on whose steps we stood seemed a structure built of bones, and the city a fortress defending a vast and soulless regime of death.

 

Opposing our nation’s official reading of its own Constitution on such a fundamental issue as the right to life teaches a citizen to think independently. It reconditions the hair-trigger reflex that says, “My country, right or wrong.” In subsequent years, I have followed my Catholic conscience on many other issues: I have documented war crimes committed by American soldiers (including a friend of mine) in the first Gulf War; I opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, months before it started. Writing about history, I have condemned the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; denounced American intervention in World War I (not World War II, I hasten to add); and explored the tyrannical nature of American laws imposing Prohibition and “eugenic” sterilization. There are strict limits to what the State has the right to do to its citizens, and even to its enemies, and on occasions our great country has crossed that line, I must regretfully admit.

Precisely because I have striven to form my citizenship and scholarship in accord with my well-informed Catholic conscience, I resent it when Church leaders willfully misrepresent Church teachings in the service of a foreign or ideological agenda. My resentment simmers toward rage when these leaders try to bully Catholics into flouting our nation’s just laws, betraying our fellow citizens, and sinfully neglecting the duties demanded by the virtue of patriotism. It’s even worse when these Catholic leaders build up the political power of the very politicians who defy authentic, unambiguous Church teaching on every key current issue — from the sanctity of life to the meaning of marriage — by offering citizenship to hundreds of thousands who habitually vote their racial self-interest instead of their Catholic consciences. I regret that, even before he has taken office, Archbishop Gomez has fallen into each of these errors.

 

Is it un-Christian of me to greet the new leader of our country’s largest archdiocese with this shot across the bow? It’s certainly impolitic, and it won’t help me get my books sold in his cathedral bookshop. I might have held my tongue, had I not read Archbishop Gomez’s manipulative 2008 keynote speech at the Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly on the subject of immigration. In it, Archbishop Gomez explicitly compares Catholics who oppose the mass influx of millions of unskilled workers to . . . Julian the Apostate.

For those of you who aren’t history buffs: Julian was the neo-pagan emperor who tried to stamp out the Catholic Church. That is what the new Los Angeles prelate thinks of Americans worried about the fiscal, social, and economic implications of

Such Americans are apostates, as Archbishop Gomez says explicitly, insisting: “We must defend the immigrant if we are to be worthy of the name Catholic.” I’m glad that Air Force veteran Rev. Patrick Bascio will not fall under Archbishop Gomez’s authority; as the author of the tightly reasoned book The Immorality of Illegal Immigration, this former pastor in Harlem (who points up the devastating impact of immigration on black Americans) might find himself condemned as a heretic.

In a previous article, I wrote about a device I called the Amazing Catholic B.S. Generator and suggested that the “pastoral letters of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, which appear in his paper the Tidings, seem to have been entirely produced by the Generator — which must be running day and night in the basement of his extraordinary new cathedral.”

Well, it appears that Archbishop Gomez has cranked up the Generator himself. In fact, it is set at full throttle: In his speech, Archbishop Gomez claims that the Holy Family themselves were immigrants seeking a better life in Egypt — just like today’s entrepreneurial immigrants who leave jobs and homes in Latin America to find more comfortable lifestyles in the United States.

But Joseph and Mary were not economic refugees, slipping across a border in search of higher carpentry wages. In cold, biblical fact, they were refugees from political persecution, who fled for their lives and returned home as soon as it was safe. No one, not even the strictest border-control activists, opposes temporary refugee programs for those under political persecution. But Gomez’s speech implies that patriotic Americans who want our laws enforced would have sent Jesus, Mary, and Joseph back to the murderous King Herod. He also slyly suggests that Americans who oppose mass immigration aren’t really pro-life, in the course of this weird syllogism:

In Catholic teaching, the right to migrate is among the most basic human rights. It’s very close to the right to life. Why? Because God has created the good things of this world to be shared by all men and women — not just a privileged few.

I searched for some connection between Archbishop Gomez’s premise and his conclusion, but eventually I gave up. So let’s address what rational content can be assayed from his assertion. The “right to migrate” means the right to leave a country. Of course, no Catholic supports a Berlin Wall holding unhappy citizens in their home countries, any more than we favor placing innocent people under house arrest. Does that mean we must allow anyone, for any reason, to move into our homes? We oppose abortion; does that mean we’re morally obliged to adopt indefinite numbers of children?

If so, if every Catholic must support open borders in his country, then Archbishop Gomez ought to carry this message to his native land, Mexico — which strictly, even savagely, patrols its southern borders with Central America. Why not go further, and help the truly desperate peoples of Congo and Sudan emigrate to a land with far more economic opportunities — such as Mexico?

No one, not even Archbishop Gomez, is claiming that Mexico is undergoing something akin to the Irish potato famine — which led one-fourth of the Irish population to flee to the United States and Canada (neither of which had welfare states on which the immigrants could become dependent). Indeed, although large parts of the country are now controlled by drug lords linked to immigrant smugglers, Mexico is modernizing rapidly, producing some massively wealthy citizens — such as the richest man in the world, Mexican Carlos Slim.

There are many problems in Mexico, of course — and most of them stem from centuries of poor governance, public corruption, oligarchy, lawlessness, socialism, and religious persecution. The citizens of many countries suffer from similar legacies — for instance, most of the Middle East. Is the United States obliged to import all those people, too? Why would we hesitate? Beyond the mass unemployment and crippling welfare costs, we would fear the cultural and political impact of mass immigration by people who — not out of any moral flaws in their character, but for good, historical reasons — don’t share our respect for public institutions and private property. I fear that these people will live and vote according to the dysfunctional culture of their “old countries” at the expense of the hard-won, fragile civic order of our own.

That makes me a xenophobe — and therefore an apostate, according to Archbishop Gomez, who says:

The Christian word for “hospitality” is like the antidote to that. Philoxenia literally means “love of strangers.” This is who we are called to be — “lovers of strangers.” Lovers of the immigrant, the alien, the undocumented. This love is not some sentimental affection. It’s a radical love in which we open our hearts and our homeland to the stranger in need.

There’s little point in rationally engaging such rhetoric. It is not aimed at our reason but more primitive parts of the brain that are moved by squeamishness and shame. Let me try to move the argument back to the frontal cortex for a moment.

Christian love consists first in praying and acting for the eternal salvation of someone’s soul (the spiritual works of mercy) and second in caring for those in desperate straits (the corporal works of mercy). It does not extend to every action that might possibly be of material benefit to people who aren’t in danger of life and limb but who (for whatever reason) have less money than you. Even if you imprudently choose to do that yourself — to hand out all your cash to anyone who asks — you do not have the right to force your neighbors to do the same, to clog the public hospitals with thousands of strangers who never paid taxes, the public roads with people who haven’t insured their cars, the voting rolls with poor people who will vote to redistribute your neighbors’ wealth. Not only are you not obligated as a Christian to act on this kind of Envy — you are forbidden. Let me say this in black and white: Favoring mass, unskilled immigration into a democratic welfare state is a sin.

The most authoritative source of Church teaching on any issue is the Catechism, which posits in classic, Catholic fashion a pair of obligations which are inextricably linked:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. . . .

And:

Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. (2241)

This reminds me of other Catholic teachings: A worker has a right to a living wage, but only if he actually shows up and does the job. Likewise, if the immigrants don’t do B, we aren’t obliged to offer them A. Ask yourself: Are the angry mobs of illegal immigrants who march through American streets carrying flags of foreign countries, who demand bilingual education, who vote as ethnic blocs, and who commit identity theft to work here illegally fulfilling their side of the bargain? If not, then we are dispensed from ours. They have forfeited our hospitality, and it’s time for them to go home.

Archbishop Gomez has already taken part in marches by illegal immigrants demanding amnesty and citizenship, and now he is abusing as apostates native citizens who seek to uphold our country’s laws. In his Missouri speech, he grudgingly admits that the United States has the right to control its borders and apply the governing virtue of Prudence to decisions about how many new citizens to accept — as the Church clearly teaches. But his statements are disingenuous, since he goes on to condemn every possible means by which America might enforce such laws (which he anyway condemns as “clearly vindictive . . . obviously meant to injure and intimidate”). He opposes workplace raids that target companies who use immigrant labor to undercut U.S. labor laws, avoid workers’ compensation claims, and evade the need to insure their workers — who instead rely on public emergency rooms. Furthermore, it is wrong, he says, to deport those who are living here illegally. Instead, they should have to undertake “community service” — the kind of penalty Americans earn for peccadilloes like public urination. So anybody who craves the privilege of American citizenship, which thousands have earned through service in wartime, can “earn” it by sneaking in, then raking leaves in a public park.

 

I guess I’m not surprised that someone born in Mexico, who is about to take over as pastor of many thousands of Mexican Catholics, might be sentimentally inclined to misguided compassion toward those who came here in defiance of our nation’s just and democratically enacted laws. It is a bit unseemly for a naturalized citizen, who has benefited from our country’s hospitality, to try to take charge of our home and invite in all his cousins — but I will let that pass. I don’t think Archbishop Gomez is moved so much by Mexican nationalism as he is by institutional interests. As I’ve written before,

American bishops have largely given up on passing along the Faith to the next generation of native-born Catholics, and are relying instead on a steady influx of people who have not yet been fully exposed to the acid effects of modernity — including the dominance of “dissenters” in many Catholic schools, the blandness and vagueness of religious instruction, the unrelenting banality of most parish liturgies (with music and rituals that would not pass muster at gatherings of the Boy Scouts), and the dismal quality of education for would-be converts. . . .

I like to ask “conservative” Catholics who favor virtually open borders because it will “help make America Catholic”: Do you think that uneducated Mexican peasants are more likely to save their souls in Guadalajara — or the slums of Los Angeles? Which is a more wholesome atmosphere for their children? Likewise I say to those who blandly suggest that we will “restore American culture” through the influx of “pro-family” immigrants: That’s like flooding a whorehouse with virgins, to try to raise the moral tone. It works — for about 15 minutes.

Beyond the spiritual harm it does the immigrants by corrupting them and worldly bishops by enabling them, the disregard of American sovereignty undermines the very principle of public order. That principle is one of the few political axioms Christ Himself affirmed, when He said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” So what is Caesar’s? Beyond issuing currency and collecting taxes, this must include controlling the borders. Enabling illegal immigration amounts to counterfeiting citizenship, and is every bit as evil as counterfeiting currency. If I might for the last time quote an older piece I wrote:

Why is counterfeiting immoral? Let’s say I have a printing press in my basement. I can churn out perfect copies of U.S. currency. But I do not use this for my own benefit. I distribute the forgeries to the poor.

Who does that harm? Assuming that the bills are indistinguishable from real currency, then the merchants who sell these poor folk food and clothes will not be damaged — nor will anyone who accepts the bills subsequently, at least not directly. I might even tithe ten percent of my print-run to the Church. So what’s wrong with my printing the bills? Should the Catholic Worker and the Catholic bishops get in on my project? We could wipe out the Third World debt in a matter of weeks. . . .

I think even the religious Left would agree that I was not rendering unto Caesar what is his. By seizing control of the currency from the government, and cheapening the value of every dollar legitimately earned and traded, I would be damaging the common good.

Likewise, when we foster illegal immigration, and legitimize it later through inevitable amnesties, we are cheapening irreparably the value of citizenship — a privilege for which thousands of people have worked and waited patiently, something which men have enlisted in the U.S. military and risked their lives to earn. . . .

Imagine if you can Jesus Christ, redeemer of man, winking at the Pharisees, and explaining to them how to produce fake gold coins with Caesar’s image.

That is the face of the open-borders Christian.

John Zmirak

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John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins (Crossroad). He served from October 2011 to February 2012 as Editor of Crisis.

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