Thursday, September 7, 2017

DACA: Steve Bannon says Catholic Church needs immigrants for economic reasons

Steve Bannon

IF STEVE BANNON were to come into my church, he'd take one look at all the brown-skinned, black-haired, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Latinos in the pews and do a quick 180 and make an exit to the parking lot.


Bannon, the former chief strategist to Donald Trump, claims leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church oppose 45's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation, because they believe in “unlimited illegal immigration” and need “illegal aliens to fill the churches.”

Bannon, a life-long Catholic, made his allegations during an interview with 60 Minutes that will air Sunday. 60 Minutes released portions of the Bannon interview today (Sept. 7).


Bannon is linked to right-wing Catholics who oppose the relatively progressive theology of Pope Francis. The wildly popular pontiff’s stances on climate change, immigration, and equity economics has made him a media darling among western liberals, but has drawn the ire of conservative Catholics.

Speaking about the position taken by the usually cautious U.S. bishops (who cannot be accused of being liberal) on DACA, Bannon said, “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it.

“Catholic bishops condemn him (because) they have an economic interest," he continued.  "They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration." 

It's true that church membership has seen a drop in recent years. It's also true that immigrants from Latin America and Asia, primarily Vietnam and the Philippines, carrying their devout practices from their homeland to the U.S. is changing the face of the Catholic Church in some areas of our country. But to characterize the changing demographics of the church as undocumented immigrants is crazy.

Bannon is doing what white supremacists typically do, they make everything about themselves. They see immigrants from non-white countries (Canada, Europe and Australia is OK) as a threat to their cultural dominance and assumed privilege. No matter where they might fall in the economic scale - they can be jobless and on welfare - but in order to make themselves feel better, they can always fall back on that inherited status.

Catholic bishops have roundly criticized the Trump administration’s decision on Tuesday to end DACA, created by executive order from former President Barack Obama to protect so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age.

New York Archbishop Timonthy Dolan reacted to Trump's decision and announced by Attorney General Jeff Session: “This is contrary to the spirit of the Bible and of our country, and a turning away from the ideals upon which our beloved country was founded,” he said in a statement. “All of the ‘Dreamers’ who now face such uncertainty and fear, please know that the Catholic Church loves you, welcomes you, and will fight to protect your rights and your dignity.”

The condemnation of Trump's decision came from every corner of the U.S. Catholic Church:

  • Rev. José H. Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, called the announcement “a national tragedy and a moral challenge to every conscience.”
  • Chicago archbishop Cardinal Blase Cupich called Trump’s announcement “heartless” in a statement, saying it would leave Dreamers “in a six-month limbo, during which Congress is supposed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, a feat they have been unable to achieve for a decade.”
  • The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, addressed his statement directly to Dreamers, saying: “We write on this difficult day to remind you of God’s love for you and to tell you that you are not alone.”... “We call upon Congress to act without delay in enacting a lasting solution, but more than ever, we commit ourselves to living out God’s law, which calls on us to love the stranger, remembering that our ancestors in faith were once strangers in a foreign land.”
  • The U.S. branch of Sisters of Mercy, a religious order of Catholic women, released a statement decrying the decision as a “historic injustice and a violation of the human dignity of over 800,000 young people.”
The relationship between Trump and the Catholic bishops appears to be a marriage of convenience rather than the love affair he has with evangelical ministers. Although many evangelicals warmly embraced Trump's candidacy, the U.S. Catholic bishops never publicly endorsed him. However, they did express strong support for some of his positions — for example, his opposition to abortion and his support for religious freedom.

What really disturbs the bishops is 45’s actions on immigration and refugee policy which generally went against their position on immigration reform. During the first seven months of the Trump administration, the bishops issued over 20 statements on the treatment of immigrants and refugees, all of them very critical of the Trump administration.

The bishops did not mince their words: The bishops said they were “disheartened,” “deeply troubled,” “deeply concerned” and “disappointed” by the president’s actions on immigration and refugees. They worried about “bigotry,” “fear and intolerance.” The president’s actions were “alarming,” “devastating” and “injurious.” He was putting people “in harm’s way” and making “migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.” They protested the president’s executive order that “virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program,” which affected resettlement programs run by the church.

The bishops and other Catholic organizations view their position on immigration as a fulfillment of what they see as their Christian duty to "welcome the stranger."


Bannon's views, unfortunately, may be a reflection of the old American Catholic Church that was once dominated by whites. 

According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll, 55 percent of U.S. Catholics are white and non-Hispanic. That number was nearly 90 percent 25 years ago. And with 52 percent of Catholics under 30 being Latino, those numbers will be changing much more significantly.

The Washington Post writes that less than half of white Catholics (44 percent) believe immigrants strengthen the country, according to a 2015 Public Religion Research Institute poll. The same survey found that more than 4 in 10 white Catholics say immigrants threaten traditional American customs and values.
Trump won those bastions of white Catholicism in places like Pennsylvania, and other eastern states.

San Francisco's St. Patrick's Catholic Church is predominantly Filipino.

On the west coast and along the southern border, the future of the church is much more diverse and, not surprisingly, attendance at Mass is robust.

As white attendance to Mass drops, their seats are being filled with the new immigrants. The Catholic Church, in response, has tailored their services to accommodate the new parishioners. In California, at least, most churches have masses in Spanish. 

At San Francisco's St. Patrick's in what used to be an Irish neighborhood, the church has several masses in Tagalog, a Filipino dialect, since the old church is a community gathering place in the Filipino Heritage District. In my own church, we have a mass that continues the traditions of Vietnamese.

If Bannon were to come to my church, if he resisted the temptation to flee and stayed for the services, as a stranger, he would be welcomed.

(60 Minutes airs Sunday, 7 p.m. on CBS.)
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