I didn't realize that Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese has a new book out, Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation, that steps right into the national debate on immigration reform. Gomez and the publisher describe the book as "a personal, passionate and practical contribution to the national debate about immigration - pointing the way toward a recovery of America's highest ideals....Immigration is a human rights test of our generation. It's also a defining historical moment for America." Daily News columnist Tim Rutten disagrees in his Sunday column. He calls the book by LA's top Catholic official strange and confounding, and its overall reach potentially tragic. From the column:
It goes without saying that the current crop of U.S. prelates has managed to shred most of the moral authority the bishops have wielded in American politics since the New Deal. When it comes to sexual ethics, the pedophilia scandal, along with continued opposition to marriage equality and contraception, has pretty much taken the bishops out of the game. After generations of providing clear and far-sighted leadership on society's health care obligations, their dog-in-the-manger opposition to President Barack Obama's landmark reform package has managed to do the same. If the archbishop's book signals a turn by the bishops on immigration, then something similar is about to occur on this issue -- and that's a tragedy.
Gomez's book takes its title from another tract, "The Next America," a denunciation of the country's alleged drift into a secularism overtly hostile to religious freedom. Its author, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, is a leader among those bishops implicitly, but relentlessly suggesting that "faithful" Catholics cannot belong to the Democratic Party. As a cleric who owes his spiritual formation to his long membership and education in Opus Dei, an organization fundamentally shaped by its origins in Franco's Spain, it's no surprise that Gomez is an instinctual social and political conservative. His book, in fact, grows out of talks he gave at the Napa Institute, which was founded by a wealthy and conservative Orange County Catholic layman, Tim Busch. As such, it's a novel attempt to make the case for immigration reform according to the values and historical fantasies popular on the American right.
If that sounds like something of a shotgun marriage, it's because ... well, it is.
"Over the past few years," Gomez writes, "I've talked to many Americans, and I've listened carefully to their arguments against immigration. I have to say: I have a lot of sympathy for point of view. I understand why they want to build more walls to secure our borders. I agree when they say we should look more closely at who we let into our country. Opponents of immigration are trying to express something admirable and patriotic. They are trying to defend this country they love."
That's a sentiment sure to be appreciated by the "patriots" who blocked immigration reform in the House last week.
Elsewhere, the archbishop expresses understanding for the view that undocumented migrants simply are lawbreakers. "The presence in our midst of millions of unauthorized immigrants offends something deep in our American self-understanding. The chaos that illegal immigration has caused in some of our southern border communities only adds to a general feeling of lawlessness. The thought that these immigrants might go unpunished or win some kind of amnesty strikes at our basic sensibilities of justice and fair play."
Really? Perhaps, but only in those right-wing circles where "the rule of law" is tortured into a concept of criminality that equates flight from dire economic necessity with theft and murder.
Here are some warmer reports on the book in Catholic media. Apparently, Gomez stresses that most Americans have learned a history that omits the Hispanic and Catholic culture that existed in the land before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. "Long before America had a name, long before there was a Washington, D.C., or a Wall Street, this land was Spanish and Catholic," Gomez writes in the book. “Two hundred years before any of the Founding Fathers were born, this land’s people were being baptized in the name of Christ...The people of this land were called Christians before they were called Americans. And they were first called this name in the Spanish tongue." From a writer in the National Catholic Reporter:
Gomez goes out of his way to acknowledge the good faith of those who worry about immigration and who oppose reform. He agrees that no one should break the law, he acknowledges that people are often made fearful in the face of demographic change, and he takes the right of a country to protect its borders seriously. He is never dismissive to those who oppose immigration reform, instead he acknowledges them and their arguments with respect but then, without any of the shrillness that has accompanied so much of the discussion of religious liberty, he shows why he sees these issues differently and why he believes the Gospel and the Church’s teachings call us to see these issues more humanely.