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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cardinal Roger "Civil Disobedience" Mahony

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has an op-ed in today's New York Times reiterating his position that Catholics should disobey recently proposed immigration laws which would provide criminal penalties for those who assist illegal aliens in remaining in the county.


I'VE received a lot of criticism for stating last month that I would instruct the priests of my archdiocese to disobey a proposed law that would subject them, as well as other church and humanitarian workers, to criminal penalties. The proposed Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives in December and is expected to be taken up by the Senate next week, would among other things subject to five years in prison anyone who "assists" an undocumented immigrant "to remain in the United States."

Some supporters of the bill have even accused the church of encouraging illegal immigration and meddling in politics. But I stand by my statement. Part of the mission of the Roman Catholic Church is to help people in need. It is our Gospel mandate, in which Christ instructs us to clothe the naked, feed the poor and welcome the stranger. Indeed, the Catholic Church, through Catholic Charities agencies around the country, is one of the largest nonprofit providers of social services in the nation, serving both citizens and immigrants.

Providing humanitarian assistance to those in need should not be made a crime, as the House bill decrees. As written, the proposed law is so broad that it would criminalize even minor acts of mercy like offering a meal or administering first aid.

Current law does not require social service agencies to obtain evidence of legal status before rendering aid, nor should it. Denying aid to a fellow human being violates a law with a higher authority than Congress -- the law of God.


Based on the above comments, it appears that Cardinal Mahony has found an issue he can stand strong on. With immigration, Mahony shows a firm episcopal backbone and makes it clear that Catholics should engage in civil disobedience in order to adhere to God's law on this issue.

Though Mahony's interpretation of God's law is not so obvious to me based on my reading of Church teaching, I will not criticize his views on immigration at this time. Instead, I think it is instructive to compare Mahony's current firm stance on immigration with his position on abortion.

It is clear under Church teaching that God's law does not permit abortion, and yet, the Supreme Court has declared that the Constitution of the United States requires that the practice be legal in nearly all circumstances. Despite this obvious violation of God's law, Mahony has not urged the Catholics of his diocese to ignore the laws of the United States and the laws of the State of California in order to save the lives of millions of unborn babies.

My point is not to argue that Catholics should ignore the rule of law. Instead, my point is that Cardinal Mahony has urged Catholics to ignore the rule of law with respect to immigration law. His relative silence on the issue of abortion is deafening.

UPDATE: The Editors of National Review take on Cardinal Mahony here.