By DEXTER DUGGAN
PHOENIX — As Mass concluded at a parish here in early February, the priest called attention to the importance of the Catholic Church’s nationwide Encuentro program for retaining Hispanic members.
By the time that Hispanics or Latinos reach their second or third generation of living in the United States, “we’re losing them at an alarming rate,” the priest said.
Although the Encuentro (Encounter) promotes itself as engaging this population, there’s worry expressed perhaps sotto voce that a considerable part of the demographic simply is being lost to the U.S. Church.
One of the stated objectives of Encuentro is: “Invite all Catholic leaders to engage and accompany Hispanic Catholics who find themselves in the peripheries of the Church and society, particularly those who live in at-risk situations and are not actively involved in their faith community.”
Over recent years, The Wanderer has interviewed some Latino U.S. citizens here who’ve explained why arrivals from south of the border may not remain firm in their historic religious beliefs.
Reasons include the lack of traditional supports for that faith here, the dominantly un-Catholic or non-Catholic atmosphere of the U.S., successful attempts to win them into fervent non-Catholic religious evangelicalism, an anti-Catholic mass media, and even the fact that those who slip into the U.S. illegally may know how to head north, but they still have a damaged moral compass.
U.S. defenders of national security have been correct when they said that massive illegal immigration not only harms the nation that the unauthorized crossers come to, but also the unreformed homelands they left behind.
The issue is more complicated when many of their first generation here defiantly evaded U.S. law to arrive and remain, or that their motivations may have included “reconquering” the U.S. Southwest for the mythical bronze “Aztlan” kingdom.
If only the illegal immigrants spent one-third as much energy and ingenuity at improving their own homelands as they do breaking U.S. law, many problems south of the border would have been corrected, U.S. defenders say.
Those whom The Wanderer has interviewed on the issue of immigration and religion include Catholic conservative activist Reymundo Torres, a third-generation American whose family arrived legally from Mexico, and Luz Fuenzalida, a Chilean native who came here legally then obtained U.S. citizenship.
From the outset of his unlikely campaign in 2015, President Trump successfully attracted many voters concerned about border security who had been ignored by elite U.S. political, media, and religious establishments, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The USCCB didn’t seem to have learned anything from Trump’s victory but only was more insistent on its policy of undifferentiated immigration, in which the mere wish of innumerable non-citizens to come here should be granted.
On January 27, sfgate.com, the website of northern California’s largest daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, posted a story headlined, “SF archbishop on Trump: Church will aid undocumented immigrants.”
It said that Salvatore Cordileone, Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, gave “an uneasy chuckle” when he said that Trump “hit the ground running” to fulfill his promises on illegal immigration.
The Chronicle reported: “Though not unexpected, the new policies — which include increased funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and guidelines to build the long-promised wall on the Mexican border — made Cordileone ‘nervous,’ he said.”
The archbishop said “the Catholic Church is mobilizing to help immigrants without documentation brace for President Trump’s crackdown,” the news site said, adding that Cordileone “said the church will ensure that immigrants ‘know their rights’ and will be ‘protected’.”
The Wanderer asked San Franciscan Gibbons Cooney if he thought the article fairly represented Cordileone’s position, which shares the liberal Democratic Party view on unlimited immigration.
Cooney, the parish secretary of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the city’s North Beach neighborhood, responded by email that he wanted to make clear “I am not opposing His Excellency’s position — in fact, am agreeing with it — but just want to reduce the need for it.”
The Chronicle story “sounds fair to me,” Cooney said. “I’m not sure that the archbishop shares the ‘liberal Democratic Party view’ on immigration because, as far as I can tell, that view refuses to recognize the existence of borders. He’s just following the Gospel injunction to help the poor.
“As the author of the article says, ‘Immigration is a pressing issue for the Church, which has a history of sheltering and providing refuges for undocumented immigrants and families’,” Cooney said.
“But what needs to be done, and what President Trump’s wall will do,” Cooney added, “is to stop letting unlimited numbers of ‘undocumented immigrants’ in, because then the problem of ‘sheltering and providing refuges’ for them begins to become manageable.
“The impetus that causes them to be illegal immigrants in the first place does not evaporate, of course. The thing to do is help their countries attain First World status, not reduce America to Third World status — which has already happened in the State of California,” he said.
“The Church teaches 1) that every nation has a right and duty to a secure border, and 2) that everyone has a duty to help the poor. Far from being in conflict, those two positions reinforce one another. You can only help the poor if you can manage the problem,” Cooney said.
“If we let everyone into America who wants to come to America, we cease to be America and no longer have the ability to be helpful. An example is the situation of the homeless in San Francisco — there are now so many, they end up being ignored,” he said.
“It’s a good illustration of the complementary roles of church and state. The Church wants to help everybody, but if put into practice without limits, it is self-defeating. The state, by placing the limits necessary to allow the state to function, enables the Church to actually fulfill its duty,” Cooney concluded.
San Francisco-area commentator Barbara Simpson, a conservative Catholic, took note of Cordileone’s comments in her February 5 weekly column for World Net Daily.
Concerning Cordileone’s desire to protect unauthorized immigrants, Simpson wrote:
“For many, it appears that not only does the Church have ‘cafeteria Catholics’ — those who pick and choose what they will do rather than follow Church law — but now the Church has to deal with ‘cafeteria rules,’ in other words, Church rules and guidelines that people can pick and choose at will and still be considered ‘good’ Catholics.”
The archbishop’s professed desire that they “know their rights” led Simpson to comment:
“Let’s see, just what are the ‘rights’ of people who have broken the law to get into this country, who are working here illegally, often using stolen or faked identification, perhaps driving without a license, and taking advantage of our social-service programs even though they’re here illegally?
“Outside of basic ‘human rights,’ they have none of the rights of American citizens or people who are in this country legally,” she said, and concluded:
“As a Catholic myself, I see our beliefs being watered down as politics makes dangerous inroads into our doctrines, and the bishops who are supposed to provide the guidelines allow ‘cafeteria Catholicism’ to win out. The real question is: Which version of the Catholic Church will survive?”
The Wanderer asked Simpson to comment further. She replied in an email:
“Even more traditional clergy, at every level, find it easier to go along to get along — usually meaning to support Democrat, liberal politicians because they’re more vocal, more media-savvy and free with contributions, and, in this day and age, supporting illegal immigration by ignoring that pesty word ‘illegal.’
“It doesn’t help that the Pope just said he’s concerned that people are hiding in the rigidity of the Commandments and are slaves to duty. He wants that rigidity relaxed. Oh. No wonder Catholics are confused and troubled,” Simpson said.
Excessive flexibility about what’s required “began after Vatican II with all the changes in the Mass,” she said. “As parishioners got used to the new procedures, they also began to get used to the more lenient attitudes of the priests — not a problem to miss Mass, okay to use birth control, divorce not a real problem, Confession more or less optional, and more.
“Sunday School became a watered-down, Disney-esque version of the traditional catechism,” Simpson said, “so it’s no surprise that the adults of today — which includes lay people and clergy — generally play fast and loose about rules and regulations, with the attitude that it’s not a good idea to be too strict because, after all, God loves us and we’ll all go to Heaven, won’t we?”
Meanwhile, Trump’s inclination to use off-the-cuff reactions created more problems than necessary when dominant liberal media already wait to pounce on every word.
When Fox television host Bill O’Reilly called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a killer,” Trump replied, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
That seemed to be an attitude of moral equivalence much more suited to the perspective of Barack Obama viewing the U.S.’s enemies. Was Trump thinking of U.S. blunders like getting into the war in Iraq that Trump opposed? Or was Trump just firing off a riposte without thinking it through?
A conservative political activist who didn’t want to be named because of his connections told The Wanderer:
“The media and the entire left have no leg to stand on when it comes to them criticizing those on the right for their willingness to overlook, ignore, or even cheer for Trump when he takes positions that ought to be criticized. They were non-stop cheerleaders for Obama when he was destroying the country and its position in the world.
“At the same time, the fact that the left did it for Obama doesn’t mean the right ought to feel justified in doing it for Trump.
“There is no moral equivalent between the U.S.A. and Russia, particularly when discussing the actions of Vladimir Putin, whose country has invaded its neighbors and murdered their people,” he said. “Yet for whatever reason, most on the right are silent, either because they can’t see the error in his ways or because they don’t want to end up on the receiving end of one of his tweets.
“Still, much as the left forfeited, years ago, any moral standing they might have had to defend standards of moral conduct, those on the right must not do the same,” he said.