The Catholic Church in America has suffered in recent decades from rapidly declining Mass attendance. Its higher education institutions have pushed Catholicism out of the curriculum and culture, with no real catechesis program for young adults. And efforts to attract more young people to the Church have looked more like a “cool” Dad trying to right a fumbled relationship with his children.
Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago and former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently announced a new effort to “nurture the faith and intellectual and moral development of our youth.” Cardinal George says that young people “encourage us with their passion to learn and their desire to create a better world.”
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Yet the particular way the cardinal is calling attention to the development of young people is for the Catholic community to “support and promote the passage of the DREAM Act and the eventual goal of the passage of compassionate comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”
The bishops established a website, Justice for Immigrants, which states its primary objectives “to educate,” “to create political will,” “to enact legislative and administrative reforms,” and “to organize Catholic networks,” all aimed at achieving the passage of the DREAM Act.
The website offers educational resources, activism tools, and postcard templates to send to Congress and President Obama. There are even suggested intercessions for the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass: “For our Government leaders, may they recognize that the DREAM Act is no more than what all parents seek for their children: safety, support and security.”
One reading of all this is that the Church is grasping at straws. It’s desperate. It sees its fragmented influence in the public square, and it jumps into the political ring swinging, albeit inappropriately. In a conversation with RealClearReligion.org, Cardinal George insisted the bishops “aren’t going to give you specific answers” to public policy questions, but “they give you principles.”
Wouldn’t a particular piece of legislation be a specific answer to the question of how to deal with undocumented immigrants? Isn’t Justice for Immigrants behaving more like a political action committee than an educational resource?
Another reading of the Church’s political activism on immigration is perhaps a seedier one. In an attempt to help readers decipher its study on American church attendance, Gallup’s Lydia Saad ominously concludes: “Catholics are now no different from Protestants in their likelihood to attend church.” And pollsters aren’t the only ones who see emptying churches.
The bishops’ obsession with undocumented immigrants is selfish. It is a sign of their failure of evangelization. Indeed, the scores of undocumented immigrants come from countries with strong Catholic cultures. So, instead of rolling out a serious effort to convert Americans, the bishops want to replace them. They think this is a winning strategy, but it looks more like desperation.
Advocating for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant Catholic populations is the easy solution — an attempt to change American culture from without. The real solution is to change the culture from within.
Without a concrete plan to evangelize, Rev. C. J. McCloskey, one of the Church’s more effective evangelizers, worries there will be no hope for our youth. “Unless there is an energetic push on secular campuses both to catechize and to evangelize, we are in danger of losing yet another generation of Catholics,” he warns.
Blaming America’s Protestant culture won’t do, and the DREAM Act is, at best, a distraction. The bishops ought to abandon it and focus on what Christ told St. Peter to do: evangelize.