Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
I don’t keep up with things that are happening in states far from me, and since the Soviet of Washington State is far from virtually every state, I had not heard about this (from a priest commenting on this piece):
Circumstances are qualifiers in our moral judgments of situations all the time, and we tend to forget that when we are faced with the necessity of judgeing the behavior of others. I used this argument in a response last Wednesday to the Catholic News Service article on the Alabama Immigration bill, which basically renders all ministry to those immigrants who are here illegally—even sacramental ministry and the rendering of such basic forms of human assistance as food, shelter, and medical care—as crimes punishable by incarceration. This, of course, is utterly ridiculous! To criminialize the Church for fulfiling her Christ-given mandate to serve the poor in his name, as if the preferential option for the poor should exclude those who are here illegally. The point that I made was that many of the immigrants who have come here, if not most, have done so out of desperation in order to feed and care for their families, who are either with them or remain in their countries of origin. Their desperation should be considered a mitigating factor in any discussion of the “sins” of illegal immigrants who have “violated” our borders. Instead, our societal judgement of the undocumented among us seems harsh and uncharitable, and not at all what one would expect from disciples of Jesus Christ toward those who are poor and down-trodden. The entire issue of immigration should be viewed by Christians through the prisms of the Church’s teaching on the preferential option for the poor and the universal destination of all goods, which you reference in your article above. When viewed this way, the undocumented among us are not “illegal immigrants” but rather, like the sons of Jacob who came before Joseph in Egypt, they are our brothers and sisters who have come before us in time of need.
I think this attempt by Caesar to block the Church from performing the works of mercy and the sacraments for the poor is as despicable as Caesar’s recent attempts to force priests to break the Seal of the Sacrament of Confession. Caesar is welcome to try to enforce his man-made rules about who gets to stand on US soil and who doesn’t. But the Church is answerable to a higher law and is bound to welcome and serve the least of these regardless of the status of their paperwork. Catholics should be very concerned about this attempt by Caesar to intrude on the Church’s sacramental and moral duties, and in particular on the threat to jail Catholics for doing that duty, just as they should be concerned—and vocal—about State attempts to violate the Seal.
This will, in all likelihood, be cast as a Left/Right issue in the media. But it’s not. It’s a question of the Church’s legitimate independence from State domination. Give the State the power to jail priests for serving illegal immigrants sacramentally or via the works of mercy today, and you help to guarantee giving Caesar the power to listen in on your confessions tomorrow—undoubtedly under cover of “national security” or some such lying rubbish.