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The Bishops’ Misapplication Of Catholic Charity, And The Evil On Our Southern Border

Cardinal Blase Cupich at St. John Brebeuf in Niles Illinois in 2019. Charles Edward Miller/Flickr.

(Watch the video for a monologue on this article and an interview with The American Conservative’s Shaun Rieley on finding the path of good in a sometimes grey and painful world.)

“Dear God, I ask you that you help me get out of here and that you take care of my mom.”

That’s a prayer that the bishop of El Paso, Texas brought to a meeting of 20 Catholic bishops and Vatican officials. It’s a child’s prayer, written in Spanish, collected from a migrant in a tent city south of the border. It’s heart-wrenching; there’s no soul as innocent as a child’s, and in this simple plea, it shows.

But there’s no peace coming to children like these; not right now, in this moment — at least not in this world.

The images flickering across American television screens this past year, and particularly these past couple of weeks, show that clearly. They are scenes of terrible suffering, of fear, exploitation, disease, trafficking in drugs and women and children, of rape and sexual assault, of human slavery and human desperation. They are scenes borne of weakness, lawlessness, and the criminal exploitation of the vacuum that lawlessness creates.

And here’s what might be the most tragic aspect: The bishops of the Catholic Church bear a lot of responsibility for this disaster.

It’s a hard charge to make and not one to be taken lightly, but it’s true: They help make this possible. How? Through their promotion to open borders — a strict adherence that warps God’s call to love our neighbors, and misunderstands the criminal situation at the border.

Take a look at how quickly they condemned President Donald Trump’s moves to seal the southern border and liberate it from the control of drug cartels. Look at the statement they released condemning the construction of a border wall, which they bafflingly claimed would “undermine the right to freedom of worship.”

Or look at how they’ve repeatedly denounced both the Trump and Biden administrations for using Title 42 of the U.S. code to expedite deportations of illegal arrivals in the United States. If there’s a step the United States can take to enforce its immigration laws, the bishops oppose it — loudly and swiftly.

Now compare that with the hard fight some of our bravest bishops had to wage to protect life. It’s been an uphill slog — and it’s a wonder it’s come as far as it has.

But the difference between the two is not as surprising as you might at first think. “The [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] collected $50 million for migration and refugee services for the year 2020, most of which came from the federal government,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichbor told the news site Church Militant. “During that same period,” he added,” the U.S. bishops collected a meager $777,000 for pro-life activities.”

That isn’t to say the bishops aren’t pro-life; of course they are. Nor is it to say they are guilty of the humanitarian crisis on our border; they aren’t working as human smugglers and they aren’t running our ineffectual government.

But more than any other religious group, it is America’s Catholic bishops who lend moral support and cover to the current border situation, and who thunder against any change in the status quo that might possibly mean fewer illegal immigrants and fewer victimized children in tents run by criminal gangs just praying to God to protect them and their mothers.

This is a distinction with meaning: It’s important to separate guilt from responsibility, just as it’s crucial for us to understand what our duty as faithful Catholics is to our country and her people, to our just laws and our future, to our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering and in distress, and to our salvation.

We live in a fallen world, and while we rightly desire one free of war and borders, that world is not and never will be ours until the Kingdom comes. This means until then, the Christian imperative to welcome the stranger comes with duties and responsibilities — including preserving the society that welcomes him.

As a moral and Christian people, we have a religious duty to be welcoming and to take people into our care. There are a lot of excuses not to — it’s not an easy command — but there are precious few good reasons not to; the kind of reasons that will pass muster with God. There are, however, limits to how we limited men are able to love, and so there are limits on how we are called to charity. In St. Thomas Aquinas’s greatest work, Summa Theologiae, the renowned doctor of the church explains the order of charity, beginning with God at the center and moving out from ourselves to our family and nearest neighbors. God does not ask us to feed the hungry at the expense of our children, or to shelter the stranger by turning out the widows and orphans already among us.

And while we have an ordered call to charity, we don’t have a religious duty to have no nations, no laws, and no order. In the New Testament and Old, we see individuals and families in strange lands, sometimes as refugees. We are shown their example, and over and over again you will see these same holy men and women act with respect toward their hosts. They don’t break their laws, and when they do they flee.

It’s difficult to understand how breaking our laws, disregarding our customs, and evading our lawful and justly stationed officers to cross our border against our wishes can be called an act of love, even if the perpetrators are deserving of charity once apprehended or turned back.

Nor are charity and love things our country lacks: Since the mid-1960s, we have taken in more than 60 million — 60 million — legal immigrants from all around the world. To put that in perspective, there are currently 330 million people in the United States.

This is the largest immigration wave in history. Not American history — world history. If there is any country or any civilization anywhere at any point that has experienced anything like this, there’s no trace left of them. And we did this voluntarily.

Does this sound like a place that doesn’t welcome the refugee? Does this sound like a country that “turn[s] away the vulnerable?” Or one that does not “answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions,” as the bishops have said?

When criticizing our policy that people stay in Mexico while applying, the bishops said we must “honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life,” but do they actually believe that?

If they do, then they’re either being foolish or have fallen for the lies our society’s open border proponents tell, and this has terrible consequences. Their words and actions help shield and continue a murderous, criminal system that preys on the most vulnerable in our hemisphere and spits in the face of both the rule of law and the dignity of human life.

Once again, this is no exaggeration. Almost everything you’ve been told by corporate media about the border is a lie. Our border story is not “Homeward Bound III,” or “Fievel Goes North” — it’s an organized cartel operation, complete with tagging systems and lines. It’s also rife with sexual slavery, labor slavery, and unbelievable cruelty. Everything about the U.S.-Mexico border and what happens there is built on ignoring our laws, ignoring common sense, and ignoring basic humanity in favor of silence and cowardice.

The U.S. has chosen not to control its border, and that’s the key word — choose. We are easily rich enough and powerful enough to guard a few hundred miles of desert if we wanted. It would cost us one-fiftieth of what was so eagerly spent on a single failed war in Afghanistan. But no, we choose to not control our border. So somebody else controls it in our place. Gary Hale, a drug policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston, summed it up: “Criminal organizations control the border.”

What criminal organizations? The Mexican cartels. They have guns, knives, and the depravity to use both on any who oppose them. The result is a hellscape of human smuggling and exploitation.

A half-century ago, most people illegally crossing the border did so by themselves. Today, more than 95 percent hire a smuggler, many of them tied to the cartels. Human smuggling inevitably means everything that phrase evokes: migrants extorted for all their earthly possessions, young girls subjected to sexual exploitation, drugs and weapons pouring over the border, and people murdered when they see too much, say too much, or simply upset the wrong person.

Even where the Border Patrol does get involved, our own foolish policies are used against us. Word is out that if you’re a “family” it’s almost certain you won’t be deported. So at the border, there’s a trade in children, some of whom are passed around to help multiple cross into the United States.

Children as young as two are being transported by the cartels, alone, all the way up from South America. The cartels tell parents now is the time to do it. “It’s good to take advantage of the moment, because children are able to pass quickly,” one Guatemalan smuggler told Reuters. “That’s what we’re telling everyone.”

That’s just young children, but there are a lot of other broken parts. Because the United States makes deportation nearly impossible for anyone whose child is a U.S. citizen, pregnant women are making dangerous journeys, hoping to cross over and give birth just across the border.

More than 300 pregnant women are reported to be in that mass of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas. At least five have given birth already.

Because American policy is to let in “unaccompanied minors” with few questions asked, anybody under 30 with a brain claims to be an unaccompanied 17-year-old; it’s not like we have any way to check.

How many gang members have we let into the country this way? We don’t know, of course — when it comes to immigration, we deliberately avoid knowing too much. If we knew the truth, there’d be pressure to change things.

Why do we let this insane situation persist? Because the current situation, as horrible as it is, creates a lot of winners. Employers get the low-wage workers they want. The Democratic Party gets the long-term political advantage of transforming this country more rapidly than the American people actually want or vote for. And everybody gets to avoid the discomfort of angering the press and activists by making the hard decision to stand up for the law instead of the easy decision to do nothing.

These are the profit centers, and they are happy for any moral shroud they can hide under. They’ll gleefully shield their misdeeds with the press statements of the Catholic Church.

But the more our moral leaders tolerate it, the more insane the situation at the border becomes. The way to ebb this humanitarian crisis is to stop feeding it. When America acts as a nation of laws — where people have to arrive legally — then the border crisis disappears, as it did in the final year of the Trump administration. But when we send the message that our laws mean nothing — and anybody can get in if they know the magic words — then more and more people show up. Nearly two million so far this year, and more are coming every day.

There’s an important role for the bishops to play in this human drama, as is true of all our politics. The root of the word “politics,” after all, is politiká, a Greek word to describe the affairs of the city — affairs the church can’t afford to sit out of.

In 1962, for example, the bishop of New Orleans excommunicated three prominent Catholic segregationists for defying the church’s desegregation order, despite angry cries that he should not meddle in politics. Similarly today, church leaders fighting the evils of abortion are told to mind their business — to stay out of the affairs of the city. There can be no accepting this.

While it might be upsetting to the chirping secretaries of our Commanding Heights, the ancient knowledge of the church has much to contribute on questions of economics.

But God does not call us to violate just laws for charity; nor to love all with equal good deeds and intensity, understanding we cannot extend good deeds to everyone on earth, nor love all with the same intensity. So when church leaders act, they must do so with careful consideration and sound theology, working hard to ensure no single teaching or group of teachings obscures the others to the detriment of the good; striving to make certain justice, charity, and mercy are all weighed.

Much as many bishops have erred in forgetting the necessity of repentance in forgiveness and the mercy and love inherent in just punishment, they have largely failed on the subject of immigration. They have stressed the importance of charity while neglecting the godliness of just order, they have placed a single newsworthy community of poor souls distant from us over an unseen and less glitzy community of poor souls next door — and they have not paid proper heed to the harmful effects this charity without justice has had on the lives of the vulnerable (nor the power it has given wicked men).

The results of these mistakes are painful, are deadly, and are on our border every day and night. On this, there can be no confusion; it’s time for our church to recognize it.