After former White House strategist Steve Bannon suggested the U.S. bishops have financial and other self-interested reasons for supporting DACA and immigration rights, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement Thursday calling his charges “outrageous and insulting.”
“It is preposterous to claim that justice for immigrants isn’t central to Catholic teaching,” said USCCB chief communications officer James Rogers.
“It comes directly from Jesus Himself in Matthew 25, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food…a stranger and you welcomed me.’ Immigrants and refugees are precisely the strangers we must welcome. This isn’t Catholic partisanship. The Bible is clear: welcoming immigrants is indispensable to our faith,” he added.
In a 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Bannon slammed the Catholic Church’s support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and immigration to the United States.
Bannon, a Catholic, described the Church’s support of DACA as “terrible” after the U.S. bishops’ conference and a wide cross-section of individual bishops objected to Trump’s decision to end it under the threat of a lawsuit by several states’ attorneys general.
“You know why? Because [they have been] unable to really, to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens,” said Bannon. “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it.”
Bannon was fired from his White House job last month and has returned to running Breitbart News, a website long known for its anti-immigrant stance.
In a nearly unprecedented display of unanimity, scores of individual bishops issued statements denouncing the Trump administration’s plans to end DACA.
Earlier this week in an interview with Crux, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said that the bishops are as united on this issue as they were in the fights over religious liberty.
“We had achieved under the leadership of Cardinal Francis George a remarkable unanimity when it came to the defense of religious freedom and now, we’re at it again,” he said.
“There’s enthusiasm, there’s unity, and the bishops feel that – darn it – we need to be prophetic on this issue,” he told Crux.
On his radio show on Thursday, Dolan characterized Bannon’s comments as “ridiculous” and said they did not merit a comment.
In questioning the bishops’ motives, Bannon claimed “they have an economic interest in unlimited immigration.” He also insisted the bishops’ positions on immigration are not doctrinal in nature, and therefore not binding.
“I totally respect the pope, and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine,” he said. “This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation.
“And in that regard,” Bannon said, “they’re just another guy with an opinion.“
The DACA program was established in 2012 by President Barrack Obama. On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration had decided to end it if Congress does not come up with a permanent solution before March 5, 2018.
DACA allowed qualifying individuals to apply for a permit to stay in the United States for employment or to continue their education. This week’s decision now leaves an estimated 800,000 individuals with an uncertain legal fate.
In a statement on Tuesday, President of the USCCB Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, along with USCCB Vice President, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angles, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman, Committee on Migration, and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers, called the cancellation of the program “reprehensible.”
“This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans,” they wrote.
“We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth…As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”
A 2015 study from Pew Research found that “Catholics are more likely than other Americans to be immigrants or children of immigrants.” More than a quarter of U.S. Catholics were born outside of the United States.
Catholic leaders have insisted that the Trump administration’s DACA decision is not merely a Catholic issue, but should concern all Americans.
In his interview with Crux, Dolan said he opposed the rescission of DACA because “a good chunk of the immigrants are our people. They’re Catholics and we love them.”
“We belong to a Church that is known as an immigrant Church,” he added. “The very word ‘Catholic’ means everybody, universal. And…we’re proud Americans and I’m a proud New Yorker – and this just flies in the face of everything that we love and salute in America,” said Dolan.
“As Americans, we are a people of compassion,” said Gomez of Los Angeles in his response to the DACA decision.“I do not believe this decision represents the best of our national spirit or the consensus of the American people.”
“Our pro-immigration stance is based on fidelity to God’s word and honors the American dream,” said Rogers. “For anyone to suggest that it is out of sordid motives of statistics or financial gain is outrageous and insulting.”
This story has been updated.