Steve Bannon’s Comments Were Harsh. But the US Bishops are Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

By John Zmirak Published on September 11, 2017

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon has provoked a firestorm in Catholic circles. How? First by supporting President Trump’s broadly popular goal of stopping illegal immigration. That fits in seamlessly with the actual teaching of the Catholic church. Our official Catechism teaches that if migrants wish to stay they must obey their new nation’s laws. Those include immigration laws. In fact, the 2016 GOP platform on the topic sounds like it’s plagiarized from the Catechism.

But Trump, Bannon, and millions of Catholic voters are out of step with the political opinions of their bishops. Those bishops routinely condemn every effort to enforce America’s laws. Pope Francis’ public statements go further, and suggest open borders as the proper Christian policy. As I documented here, some 24 U.S. bishops went so far this spring as to promise to use church facilities to “disrupt” law enforcement on immigration.

Then Bannon offered a theory as to why the bishops don’t follow the Church’s official teaching. He told Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes:

The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? You know why? Because unable to really — to — to — to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s — it’s obvious on the face of it. That’s what — the entire Catholic bishops condemn him. … They have — they have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration. And as much … as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all. I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine. This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.

New York’s Cardinal Dolan went on XM Sirius to reply:

I don’t really wanna care to go into what I think is a preposterous and rather insulting statement that the only reason we bishops care for immigrants is for the economic because we want to fill our churches and get more money. That’s insulting and that’s just so ridiculous that it doesn’t merit a comment.

Not exactly a detailed refutation, is it? Bannon may have put the point bluntly, and uncharitably reduced the bishops’ views to cynical interests. But one gets the sense that a hornets’ nest has been poked.

Bishops Are Only Human

I don’t think Cardinal Dolan is a venal or Machiavellian churchman. Neither does Steve Bannon. But we do think that he and the other bishops are human. God doesn’t promise to guide the church in its managerial decisions or political opinions. Nope, that’s subject to the same fallen human nature that goaded Renaissance cardinals, Jimmy Swaggart, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. You and are I stuck with it too.

Catholic bishops are only human. That means they’re fallen, like us.

St. Augustine taught us, in the City of God, to analyze human actions with original sin in mind. (He compared the founders of Rome to a band of pirates.) That includes the actions of bishops, even popes. They are subject, like you and I, to temptations from the devil. Each of us feels drawn to the path of least resistance, to seek out praise and avoid public scorn. We’re each of us tempted at times to “phone it in” instead of shouldering the cross.

So you and I should avoid the easy temptation to scapegoat illegal immigrants for our country’s social problems. Agreed. That’s something the bishops talk about a lot. Liberal journalists love that, so those statements get praised as “courageous” and quoted against Republicans by reporters who’d march on Christmas morning to keep third trimester abortion for sex selection legal and taxpayer-funded.

Temptations of the Shepherds

What should bishops watch out for? What temptations come with the territory where they live? Here we see that Steve Bannon has touched a sore spot in American Catholic life and leadership. According to Pew, some 40% of native-born Catholics leave the Church. If it weren’t for large-scale immigration from countries where bishops are better at preaching the faith, the American Catholic church would be shrinking at a rate comparable to Mainline Protestant denominations. One in four American Catholics today is himself an immigrant, most of them from Latin America. And a disturbingly high percentage of immigrant Catholics leave the Church too, after a few years of life in tepid U.S. parishes.

Imagine you were a bishop, and you looked at the flat or shrinking numbers of Catholics in your diocese. What  would you think? Would you be eager to see the federal government cut into them still further by enforcing immigration laws? Or might you feel tempted to echo leftists by claiming that those laws are somehow unjust? By doing it, you can also deflect the charge that you’re a hardline conservative for opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. It’s one of the few things you can say in public that will always get you praise in the secular press. That helps with donors, whose money you need for a thousand valid reasons. Like feeding the poor, and running pro-life pregnancy centers.

Speaking of money, many Catholic institutions, such as Catholic Charities, are heavily funded by U.S. government grants. It can turn them into federal contractors as much as apostolates. In 2014, the USCCB admitted that 97% of its spending on refugees was funded by the taxpayer. This dependence on the feds has threatened their freedom to follow Catholic teaching, for instance in hiring same-sex couples.

If you were a bishop, and you looked at the flat or shrinking numbers of Catholics in your diocese, what would you think? Would you be eager to see the federal government cut into them still further by enforcing immigration laws? Or might you feel tempted to echo leftists by claiming that those laws are somehow unjust?

If you were a bishop, would you want to see the budgets of your charities shrink by millions of dollars every year? Would you enjoy laying off good people, because you don’t have the money to pay them? Would the prospect of closing apostolates appeal to you? Probably not. So you might be tempted to support the government policies that spare you and your people all that pain. It’s only human.

Dieting or Diet Pills?

To make this even clearer, imagine this: Your doctor tells you that you really must lose some weight. It’s key for your health. There are two routes you can take. Each seems like it would work. You can fiercely limit your calories and train for your local marathon. Or you can take this nice diet pill, which the government offers to send you for free. Which would be more attractive?

Add on these conditions. Imagine that the media and other elites scorned diet and exercise. That waiters openly mocked those who ordered salads in restaurants. That passersby pelted joggers with garbage.

Now what choice would really prefer to make? That’s the dilemma facing Catholic bishops.

The Straight and Narrow Path

There’s another way to stop the Catholic population from hemorrhaging. To fill up your parishes and seminaries. But it’s a stark and lonely road that wins you no “attaboys.” In fact, it will get you mocked and spat on.

The signs on that road read “orthodoxy” and “tradition.” And a few bishops are taking it. They are leading the revitalization of faithful Catholicism in their dioceses. They are cleaning the liberals out of the seminaries. They’re turning away gay vocations. They’re insisting on orthodoxy in their parishes and schools. And they’re seeing a surge of vocations, conversions, and Mass attendance. They’re also under savage fire from the secular world and liberals within the Church’s institutions. See what happened to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IL. All he did was to say that people in same-sex relationships couldn’t receive Holy Communion. Seems obvious from a Catholic point of view. But the media painted him as if he’d joined the Ku Klux Klan. Even liberal Catholics joined the lynch mob.

To be a faithful bishop with a thriving church, you’d have to make a thousand such decisions every year. And reap the whirlwind without backing down, as good Bishop Paprocki has refused to back down.

Or you could keep the numbers up by just sitting back and waiting for new Catholics to show up from Latin America. Some of them would end up in the seminary just by the law of averages. And the public would praise you. Again, be honest: Which would be easier?

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  • Patmos

    Liberal distortion of scripture, or veering from God’s word in any way, is utterly absurd. What? Do some get free passes while others don’t? You start overlooking sin and there is no grace of God, and consequently there is no salvation, no blessing, no power from the Holy Ghost.

    Paul asks, “Should we sin so that grace may abound?” His answer: Certainly not!

    Instead understand what grace is: A door into the household of God, a path to his glory! Both here and in the hereafter. Hallelujah.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    Money and media praise are powerful motivators for a bishop. But don’t discount ideology. Plain old globalist, Soros-funded, one-worlder, global-warmist Marxism. And adopting that ideology puts a bishop totally in line with Bergoglio.

    • Micha_Elyi

      For those who imagine that illegal immigration is filling Church coffers, here’s the reality: the Spanish-speaking half of my parish and similar parishes in my diocese are net resource consumers. When we white-haired English speaking folk are gone, you may see a surprising number of parishes close.

      • Zmirak

        Agreed. But bishops see their charities thriving with federal money. So they have perverse incentives that harm the actual parishes in the long run–compared to the “heroic” strategy of actually preaching & evangelizing in an orthodox fashion with reverent liturgies.

  • Alfy

    Don’t forget the Podesta emails, they have conspired to infiltrate the Catholic Church for the purpose of influencing bishops.

  • Bob Adome

    Other than economics, liberation theology is another reason.

  • BXVI

    Has anyone read Archbishop Gomez’s “Immigration: the Next America”?

    I found it to be very balanced. He calls for comprehensive immigration reform, starting with serious border enforcement and an absolute requirement that everyone follow the law with respect to immigration. On the other hand, he proposes that those who are “already here” should be treated with mercy (yes, even though they “broke the law” to get here). Despite the fact that they failed to respect our laws, is it really necessary to tear their families apart? Or must we be ruthless? Realistically, there is no way to physically deport 12 million people anyway, so we are going to have to sort out how to deal with them. He advocates for granting them some form of legal status (maybe it is merely “guest worker” status, or maybe there is a path to citizenship).

    The current flap over DACA is a difficult one. Clearly, it DACA was an unconstitutional abuse of executive power. The bishops should acknowledge that; they have gone “overboard” playing to the fears of a large portion of their constituency. I know for a fact that in Texas the fear (often irrational fear) of being snatched away by ICE and never seeing their kids again is keeping many undocumented Catholics away from Mass and other parish events. In Texas, at least, 70% of Catholics under age 25 are of Hispanic descent – so you can see what the future of the Church will look like – at least in this part of the country. So, of course, the Church is going to take their “side” of the issue – especially since there is plenty of Scriptural support for it.

    • You think people here want the whole picture? LOL they want hear want substantiates their perceptions.

  • John F. Kennedy

    “He calls for comprehensive immigration reform, starting with serious border enforcement and an absolute requirement that everyone follow the law with respect to immigration”

    What a great meaningless statement! I agree 100% with it. ALL immigration should be halted or almost halted. Do you think that he means that? It fulfills his statement too!

    Bring back the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921. It was the the immigration law until 1965.

  • tz1

    Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

    I take it the Gates of Hell is the “hard place”.

    I wouldn’t mind the occasional reference in charity over “dreamers”. In between hellfire homilies on Abortion (hey, a the blood of 1M innocents a year silently screaming for justice shouldn’t worry anyone), Contraception – in which in many churches over half of the married couples are committing grave if not Mortal sin – The wages of sin, even when done without knowledge and full cooperation of the will is still death, and Divorce – in its no-fault form – how about Covenant marriage that would be as hard to get out of as student loan debt.

    But DACA is both politically correct, and Oooh, Shiny, look at that…

    Yet I need to get a bit more vitriolic here. Bishops are walking in the shoes of the Apostles. You have no problem excoriating Trump or anyone else in SECULAR power for moral lapses and don’t exactly take the “remember original sin and the fall” as seriously there. Trump is NOT responsible for the care of souls, and preventing them from going to hell, though such policies do need to be brought into the light, e.g. funing of Planned Parenthood.

    But Bishops are SPECIFICALLY charged with the care of the flock. Getting those under their care to heaven instead of hell. They bear the responsibility. That is their job. Plus, they have the third sacrament of Holy Orders, so should have an excess of grace that neither you nor I posess to carry out such duties.

    I doubt I can find even ONE mention of anyone in the USCCB discussing that Planned Parenthood is still federally funded. Or anything else which is sending Catholics through the gates of hell for a permanent stay. At least I can find many criticisms of Trump.

    So a comparison of “Trump is horrible because he isn’t living up to an impossible standard” v.s. “Take it easy on the Bishops because they are just fallen men like you and me”. No. HELL NO!

    Way back when, the Detroit head of the USCCB, Cardinal Dearden, said the USCCB should be more like GM. His prayers were answered. GM hated and cheated its vendors, employees, and customers, and became bankrupt and in need of a bail out. The USCCB is not that dissimilar.

    While I cannot expect any Bishop to be a saint, I should be able to expect them to be Catholic and uphold Catholic beliefs and values. And it is not a matter of a fall. Any secular institution would have fired such incompetent and traitorous employees long ago. Or would go bankrupt. And that is what we are seeing.

    Do not complain that the vineyard is devestated if you make excuses for the brown thumb gardeners instead of calling for change.

    • TomaATL_AlKilo

      Many pay taxes like you and I.
      Regarding “living in the shadow” I would recommend a visit to a local federal reserve branch. Those that have bank accounts, and many do, are not much in any “shadow”, not to mention those that have kids born in the US.

    • tz1

      I also need to add a quick mention of the utter stupidity of adding “climate change” whatever that happens to mean today as some kind of moral imperative that even deserves mention in light of the Abortion Holocaust.
      Denier? How about Abortion Holocaust Denier?

      End Abortion, and start to work on Divorce, and there is a point in having a discussion. Otherwise we are in the midst of fire and flood (perhaps literally), war, famine, and plague, and the clergy is more interested in trivia.

  • Chris C.

    It’s something of a red herring to suggest that families will be separated, or at least that any change in policy will force them to be. Children will be free to leave with their parents if it comes to that. And any time someone breaks the law and faces the consequences, there will be some family hardship. Children often do suffer for the crimes of their parents. That is hardly an excuse for not enforcing the law. It’s not just about immigration law in isolation, but about the rule of law in general. If one can break immigration laws because they’re deemed to be inconvenient, why not a multitude of others?

    • TomaATL_AlKilo

      That as a matter of fact is a totally wrong statememt. Often one parent is deported and the US born children stay with the other parent or a relative.
      The trauma of a 7 years old losing a parent for a traffic violation for years has long term effects. This has been happening for a number of years. Like I said before these parents do jobs that no Bannonite would touch with a 10 foot pole, they are way too lazy or stoned angry on meth or OxyContin.

      • Chris C.

        If the US born children stay behind that is a choice that the parents were no doubt a part of. If not they are a family with issues that go beyond those impacted by our national immigration policies. And no one loses a parent for a traffic violation, unless you’d include a parent who has an outstanding felony warrant against him who is stopped for a traffic violation and whose status is thereupon uncovered by the traffic cop. Did they “lose a parent” for a traffic violation or for a crime that finally caught up with them?

        You are correct that illegal immigrants often do jobs that Americans won’t do, which is largely a reflection of prevailing legal wage rates which makes it advantageous for some employers to pay their workers “off book”.

        I wasn’t aware that there were such folks known to the world as “Bannonites” or that they were prone to being angrily stoned on meth or oxycontin, or were uniquely prone to laziness. Might you be making that up?

        • TomaATL_AlKilo

          They actually most of the time make a good living. Large farmers know they have no choice but to hire them, because it takes a special skill to harvest efficiently in 100 degree heat. There is no way locals can or even want to compete. When the previous governor of GA ordered immigrants out, crops rotted, locals lasted 2 days in the fields.

          • Chris C.

            Migrant farm workers have long been allowed into our nation to help harvest crops. And no locals probably don’t want to do it. I certainly have no problem with a program to allow them in to work or to legally allow in anyone to do work that Americans won’t do. There’s no reason it can’t be regulated according to law. We need to know who is coming here and for how long, and where they are staying. It’s fundamental to being a nation of laws.

          • TomaATL_AlKilo

            Mostly agree, especially moving forward.
            The question is what to do with the millions that are here illegally for 10 years or more, work hard, pay taxes, did not do anything other against the law.
            Personally I am probably not far from John’s idea to have them pay a penalty. Then actively recruit them or their children to the GOP/conservative movement, because they exemplify American basic values of hard work and self reliance.

          • Chris C.

            Different considerations apply, or should in my opinion, to obtaining legal residence and obtaining citizenship. Anyone who came here contrary to the law, should be ineligible for citizenship, or at least at the back of the line. Hence I’m not sure they’ll be of much use to any political party.

            As far as working hard and paying taxes etc. how can anyone know? They chose to live in the shadows by breaking the law. There’s likely no way to verify what they did or didn’t do with any degree of certainty. That’s part of the reason why our laws need to be enforced and our borders protected from trespassers, which any sovereign nation has an inherent right to do, much like any any property owner.

          • TomaATL_AlKilo

            Many pay taxes like you and I.
            Regarding “living in the shadow” I would recommend a visit to a local federal reserve branch. Those that have bank accounts, and many do, are not much in any “shadow”, not to mention those that have kids born in the US.

          • Chris C.

            Some choose to do as you say, others do not. Some who do as you say, have forged documents. Some who may be “out of the shadows” could disappear if need be. For the most part, they are undocumented. We have no way of knowing how many are here. It’s to a good situation for a sovereign nation to be in. The first order of business of a nation is the protection of its citizens. That can’t happen with porous borders.

  • josefa menendez

    Last year the American Catholic Church received $93 million for “refuge’ resettlement programs from the Obama administration. Looks like the Bishop’s interest in illegal immigration is not purely altruistic.

  • TomaATL_AlKilo

    What I found ridiculous is when Bannon said on 60 minutes that in the 1800’s “economic nationalism” powered growth in the US. He could not be more wrong. Immigration was twice as high by population basis at that time as it is now, mostly from poor escaping norther Europe (Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland), as well as a large undocumented group of immigrants from Canada that populated the northern parts of New England and part of the Northern mid West. Arguably they were the cause of the anti slavery push, since they were in direct competition with slaves in the south. With these immigrants came people like Carnegie. The pre and post civil war technology advances: rail, telegraph, oil, mass steel manufacturing, infrastructure building, pipelines, electricity, telephone, financial instruments to fund all this did not come from government policy but from the vitality in part brought by mass immigration. Now this has crossed borders, in places like India, China and beyond. The way to move forward is to compete, not hope that we can create industries with coal driven cars, inbred goat farming, meth or faschistic pin making.

    • TomaATL_AlKilo

      …this being said I mostly agree with Bannon regarding the Catholic Chuch and immigration.
      People like Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico or Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras do little to confront corrupt banana republic conditions at home but that does not prevent our bishops and the Pope to lecture about immigration.
      A similar situation is with Saudi Arabia and other rich Arab Sunni countries forcing Sunni immigrantation to Europe by closing their borders to Syrian Sunni Refugees, letting them drown in the Mediterranean Sea, but promising to build 200 mosques in Europe.

      • TomaATL_AlKilo

        But the idea of deporting a college student that was in the US since age 3 and knows nothing else is not “hou ha” “politically correct”. It’s disgusting, goes against American values and will kill the conservative movement, something Bannon seems intent on doing. Who does he work for? Didn’t he make a fortune in Hollywood and Wallstreet?

  • Sean Hogan

    Thing is, Dolan is all about the money. This is the same guy who wanted to have homosexual groups in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I like seeing people being direct with these types.

  • I support limiting immigration and the Trump plan. But Bannin is wrong on the Bishops motivation. The Catholic Church has historically supported very open laws on immigration and it has nothing to do with the immigrant’s religion. Just look at how they support Muslim immigration in Europe and presumably in the US. Free flow of migrants has been a long held Papal position rationalized by the free flow of people in the New Testament.

  • bbb

    Although the Catholic Church forgives sins, encourages confession and supports salvation through Jesus Christ the issue the Pope and many Bishops do not address is the terrorism of immigrants against the average American living in the USA.
    That kind of blindness to following God’s commandments is what caused the Pharisees to cease to serve their flocks.
    The Catholic church is repeating the same deafness, blindness, human law above God’s law kind of top-down mandates.
    When the church acts on man’s interpretation of God’s Word it is called heresy.

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