Most Reverend Michael Mulvey is bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi.
During the past few weeks, it is clear that our country is grappling with many complex moral and political issues that unfortunately at times reveal bitter disagreements among a wide range of viewpoints and opinions. Among these has been the difficult issue of immigration and refugees, particularly in light of the recent Executive Orders of President Donald Trump.
As in many other areas of our lives, Catholic social teaching provides us with important foundational principles by which to approach this issue. Below, I would like to highlight a few of these fundamental principles that come from the perspective of our Catholic tradition on the matter. It is my hope that these can be carefully considered as we, both as a nation and as a community of faith, enter into dialogue addressing the difficult questions that surround this topic, both in principle and in practice.
First, I strongly urge that when this issue is addressed, whether in public or in individual conversations, that it be done with the utmost civility and respect for all persons and perspectives, mindful that those who are listening come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. As Catholic Christians, and especially as those who represent Jesus Christ and his Church, we are called always to witness to the Gospel and the hope that is within us, but always with gentleness, reverence, and joy (cf. 1 Pt 3:15).
The Church remains non-partisan and our first priority cannot be partisan politics, regardless of how strongly we may feel about our political leaders or policies. Rather, our focus continues always to be the salvation of souls and fullness of redemption in Jesus Christ. As such, we will continue to treat each and every person in front of us with the dignity of a beloved child of God for whom Christ died, no matter what the person’s political leanings, legal status or condition.
Substantively, the richness of our Catholic social doctrine lays out for us two foundational principles that must be kept clearly in mind when addressing the complex issues concerning immigration and refugees—namely, concern for the common good and respect for the dignity of every human person. Far from being opposing principles, the common good of a society and the respect for the dignity of each and every human person are two lenses that help us see more clearly what must be respected as we move forward as a nation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially in #2241 and #2237, clearly summarizes how these two essential principles are applied to the question of immigration and refugees. These well-balanced sections of the Catechism should be closely studied when formulating any response to the current situation.
Regarding the dignity of the human person, in #2241, the Catechism teaches that the seeking of security and means of livelihood is a right for all persons, even when one is unable to find this in one’s own country. This right, however, is not unlimited in its application. As such, the Catechism further teaches that those who seek to migrate “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.”
On the part of the nations, “the more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent that they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of security and means of livelihood.” Public authorities must see to it that “the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him (CCC #2241).”
Regarding the common good, political authorities have the serious duty to provide for the common good of peace, safety and security of the nation for which they are responsible. Thus, political authorities, for the sake of these common goods “may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption (CCC #2241).”
In other words, nations have the right to protect their borders and to regulate integration of immigrants into its society. However, in doing so, of the Catechism teaches that political authorities are “obliged to respect the fundamental rights of the human person. They will dispense justice humanely by respecting the rights of everyone, especially of families and the disadvantaged (CCC #2237).”
Rights attached to citizenship can and should be granted “according to the requirements of the common good” and should not be suspended without legitimate, proportionate reasons.” All political rights, whether that of persons seeking security and livelihood or that of the host nation receiving them, are “meant to be exercised for the common good of the nation and the human community.”
Once again, it is urgent that all seek to exercise restraint and prudence, especially in our language and attitudes, when discussing this matter, seeking first to check our facts and to understand. Whether through fear of an unknown future or dissatisfaction with the recent political past, our concern for the common good and respect for the dignity of every human person cannot be eclipsed by emotional responses fueled by bias media reports, perhaps even of our own choosing.
Rather, the strong desire that we all share to build a more just and secure society should cause us to understand each other more clearly, to dialogue more sincerely and to love more deeply.
Understanding also that many of us are on social media, personally and in other capacities, I strongly urge that we all exercise caution, restraint and prudence when discussing these matters especially on social media so as not to add further to the current unfortunate, polarizing social climate.
Finally, we should also always be aware that various political groups seek to use the appearance of Church support or partnership in an attempt to further their own credibility or agendas. Caution and discernment should always be exercised when participating in or partnering with such groups.
For more information, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops have made available resources on their respective websites. Also of interest is #297-298 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Please join me in continuing to pray for our nation, our leaders, and all those affected by these difficult issues. May all of our thoughts, words, and actions be like those of Jesus Christ the Lord. Sententia in Christo Vobis.