The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago is often remembered for a social teaching where he used a “seamless garment” allegory. Explaining this concept, the Cardinal used it to assert that Catholics should factor in all life-related issues when evaluating something. When speaking at Fordham University in 1983, he articulated it as “Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker…Consistency means that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot urge a compassionate society and vigorous public policy to protect the rights of the unborn and then argue that compassion and significant public programs on behalf of the needy undermine the moral fiber of the society or are beyond the proper scope of governmental responsibility”. In other words, all social teachings of the church are a “seamless garment” that works together, and moral concerns like the sanctity of life and traditional marriage are just one concern among many for Catholics.
Looking back on it 30 years later, Catholics have to wonder if there are tears in the “seamless garment” theory. Our current Cardinal, Chicago’s Francis George, discussed one such social teaching of the church this week when he wrote an editorial in Catholic New World discussing American immigration policies. As expected, the Cardinal called for a “more humane and just” treatment of immigrants, and also made several valid points. He noted the current U.S. government’s policies dealing with college-aged illegal immigrants is “schizophrenic”, in that they welcome anyone who receive a college education at American universities, only to apply and enforce deportations decisions later – after they are already accepted and enrolled in such universities. The Cardinal has also acknowledged that some illegal immigrants pose a genuine threat to Americans and need to be deported, mentioning “Some of these [deported] were genuine criminals and should have been deported”. In contrast to his critics(who t claims that the Cardinal supports letting people enter the United States unlawfully), he has also stated very clearly in the past “No one has a ‘right’ to come into someone else’s country illegally”.
There’s one common statement out there that Chicago area Catholics might to re-evaluate, though. It is generally accepted among many in the media, many politicians in both parties, and many Catholic clergy, that most modern-day immigrants – whether legal or illegal – tend to be strongly “socially conservative” on most issues (Particularly, we are told, Hispanic immigrants are extremely “pro-life and pro-family” and “very devout, church-going Catholics”). Cardinal George alluded to this someone in his article this week, noting “Most of them are of the household of the faith. We are at home with them, in their house or in ours. We have a common mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe”.
Across America, especially leading up to the 2012 election, there seem to tears in this theory. Take, for example, what happening this same week in Baltimore, Maryland – the birthplace of American Catholicism. This past Tuesday, Gay and Lesbian forces announced they were teaming up with Maryland’s largest Latino and immigrant rights group, to place initiatives on the ballot that provide both same-sex marriage and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who have attended a Maryland high school and whose parents have paid taxes. “For us, it’s an issue of families, because familia es familia,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa, the immigrant rights group. “We are going to demonstrate that the Latino and immigrant community strongly supports both referendums in November 6.” Ivette Roman, a 20-year-old illegal immigrant from Peru who is openly lesbian, said she expects overwhelmingly support from the immigrant community to help pass gay-marriage and in-state tution for illegals. “I’m trying to save up money so that I can attend Montgomery College”, she noted.
Of course, the Catholic Church teaches that so called same-sex “marriage” is ‘intrinsically evil’, so the efforts of Casa fly completely in the face of Catholic social teachings. In fact, the local Catholic official for the area, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, has not been shy about empathizing that fact, and has said repeatedly that“Catholics shouldn’t vote for [an] intrinsic evil”. The question is whether the local “undocumented” Catholics are listening or even care what the church teaches.
If Baltimore were an isolated incident, there would be little cause for concern, but similar actions are occurring across America. Anyone who has seen coverage of the annual “Gay Pride Parade” in Chicago will notice a very heavy Hispanic and Latino population, as well an immigrant presence. Polls have also shown many Hispanics and immigrant voters have a favorable view of President Obama despite his extreme beliefs on abortion and Obamacare Health Care mandate that would force Catholic institutions to violate their teachings. In fact, one of the most prominent Hispanic advocacy groups in America, the National Council of La Raza, gushes with praise about Obamacare: “We believe 3 million Latinos would gain coverage through the Medicaid expansion,” says Jennifer Ng’andu, a health policy expert at the National Council of La Raza. “For the first few years the federal government pays 100 percent of the Medicaid funds; it’s a good deal for states,” she noted. And remember that big fight a few back over Prop 8 to declare marriage in California is between a man and a woman? Exit polls showed a majority of black Obama voters actually supported it. But despite Hispanics being less heavily Democrat and pro-Obama than black voters, there was no such mass effort in the “Hispanic community”. Indeed, America’s largest Spanish language newspaper, La Opinión, actually recommended a “NO” vote on Proposition 8 and supports gay marriage. Likewise, after Obama came out in favor of gay marriage in this year, a group of African American pastors got together and announced they would oppose the President’s re-election because his belief was irreconcilable with their Christian values. These black pastors believe that a national campaign may be the answer to convincing African Americans that it is time to rethink their support for Obama. The Rev. Williams Owens, president and founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP), said “The time has come for a broad-based assault against the powers that be who want to change our culture to one of men marrying men and women marrying women” Again, despite the fact that Hispanics are less heavily pro-Obama as black voters, there was no similar effort in the “Hispanic community” or of “leading Latino pastors” to speak out against the President’s stance on gay marriage, nor was there any such effort in the “Immigrant community”
In 2008, exit polls showed Hispanic Catholics overwhelming (69%) choose Obama, while non-Hispanic white Catholics selected McCain by a slim margin. After four years of Obama’s vehemently anti-Catholic policies, have the numbers changed much? Sadly, no. A recent Gallup poll for 2012 showed the ethnic breakdown in the Catholic vote is even more divided. Obama holds a whopping 70 percent to 20 percent lead over Romney among Hispanic Catholics. But among white Catholics, Romney bests Obama 55-38, it was reported on Politico.com. If these numbers hold, Catholics may cancel each other out, given that American Catholicism is now about half non-Hispanic and half Hispanic. That was the case in 2008, when Catholics overall were split 46-46 between Obama and Romney. In short, the “Catholic backlash” against Obama’s policies won’t amount to anything, unless the allegedly “devout Catholic” Hispanic and immigrant voters start voting in a manner that reflects their faith’s beliefs.
An article out this month about the triumph of anti-Catholic politicians being elected with Catholic votes was titled “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil” by Paul A. Rahe. Despite the rather harsh headline, the article traces the direction that American Catholicism has gone in the last 30 years and makes some very valid points. It seems the Catholic Church may have lost its moral authority to lead by taking an “anything goes” attitude and instructing Catholics to focus more on their everyday lives than the big picture. Rahe notes “The truth is that the priests in the United States are far more likely to push the “social justice” agenda of the Church from the pulpit than to instruct the faithful in the evils of abortion. And there is more. I have not once in those years heard the argument against contraception articulated from the pulpit, and I have not once heard the argument for chastity articulated. In the face of the sexual revolution, the bishops priests, and nuns of the American Church have by and large fallen silent. In effect, they have abandoned the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in order to articulate a defense of the administrative entitlements state and its progressive expansion”. The failures of the Catholic leadership during the priest sexual abuse scandal was particularly harmful in preventing the Church leadership from speaking with moral clarity, as now critics of the church can just scream “what about your pedophile priests?!” whenever Catholic clergy say something they don’t want to hear. In fact, the whole “pedophile priest” line is itself an example of the Church failing to claim the high ground and clean up its own mess, as the number of sexual abuse cases often stem from a number of ordained homosexual priests that nobody wants to admit to, or come to terms about, even today.
Likewise, the Catholic Church’s attitude towards their growing Hispanic population seems to be condescending and presumptuous. The talk about “the social conservative immigrants” seems to imply their default beliefs are pro-life and pro-family and that will automatically vote accordingly as the clergy believes, if they are recognized and pandered to. The truth is that the “Hispanic community”, as well as the “immigrant community” in general, is an incredibly diverse amount of people they come from a wide range of different backgrounds and values. They are not a monolithic voting bloc. As a Hispanic friend of mine recently noted, the “strong social conservative” talking point has lead to Republican politicians to claim they Hispanics “natural Republicans”, but in reality they are “no more natural Republicans than Irish-Americans or Polish-Americans are”. Your ethnicity doesn’t make you “born” into a certain political ideology or religious values system, and it is insulting to such voters to claim otherwise. It is also very dangerous to assume that voting for religious liberty or voting for traditional values automatically means “voting Republican”. As I have noted many times, there are many high-ranking Republican politicians whose beliefs are anti-Catholic and socially liberal, and on the flip side, there are Democrats whose beliefs reflect Catholic teachings. As Cardinal Lori said, “The reality is we are defending something that transcends party. The defense of religious liberty,” he said, “should not be a Democratic or Republican issue.” For a Catholic voter, this should be “fundamental, as people of faith.”
Finally, one problem with the “seamless garment” theory is the “everything should be addressed equally” actually “punishes” Catholics who bravely uphold the church’s teachings on faith and morals, if they differ from the Catholic clergy anywhere else. A good example is the newly elected Governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez. Her ethnicity is Hispanic, and her grandparents are immigrants. Martinez is an example of a practicing Catholic who does uphold the Church’s teachings on fundamental issues – she is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. Yet she is being attacked and her religious faith questioned, simply because she differs with some Catholic clergy on giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Are we supposed to believe that issue is as fundamentally important as the sanity of life? She responded to the firestorm on Facebook, saying “Critics can attack my heritage, accuse me of being a “bad Catholic” for my position, but I will keep my word to you and continue the fight to repeal this dangerous law.” This seems to be a clear example where the “seamless garment” theory is doing more harm than good when it comes to a Catholic politician trying to govern fairly and be true to their faith.
In short, Cardinal George makes some very good points this week about the government’s cowardice to deal with the immigration issue head on (making actual progress instead of just rhetoric from both sides to score political points), but the contrast between that Cardinal George thinks about the “Catholic immigrant community”, and how they view themselves, could not clearer. We can make all the comparisons we want to the great waves of immigrants in the past, but the bottom line is that every group is different and cannot be dealt with the same way, so non-Hispanic Catholics blathering on about the discrimination that Irish and Italian immigrants faced 100 years ago doesn’t do anything to resolve current modern-day divisive issues in the past. Cardinal George is right that politicians need to be more serious about immigration. But the American Catholic Church also needs to be more serious about its own failings in recent decades, when it failed to speak out when it should have, when it spoke out on issues it shouldn’t have, when it failed to clean up its own mess, and when it failed to realize it had lost confidence in the public to lead and needed to bring in outside support to help straighten up its path. And whether we like the data or not, facts are facts, and both the government and church need to really question whether their conventional claims about the “socially conservative Hispanic immigrant community” are actually true. And while Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was a beloved leader and legendary figure, he too, was human and flawed and like the rest of us. The “seamless garment” sounds good on paper, but does it work in reality?