As a Catholic, I believe that our Bishops are the heirs of the Apostles. They are the teachers and shepherds of our faith. Along with the Pope, they are guided by the Holy Spirit to lead us and instruct us. Jesus commissioned St. Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17) and this remains their role. Jesus didn’t leave us a Bible to teach us and feed us, He left us His Church. The Bishops compiled Holy Scripture a few hundred years after Christ’s resurrection. It’s the Church which St. Paul declares to be “the pillar and foundation of truth” (I Timothy 3:15). It’s the Church that we look to for guidance in our lives.
And yet, there are times when many “good” Catholics may find themselves disagreeing with the Bishops. And this is—drumroll, please—okay. The Bishops are charged to teach the truth of our faith. When they make pronouncements as individuals, or even as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on other matters, their authority is limited. Some issues are not open for debate and these include matters concerned with the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of human life, and the sacramental nature of marriage, among others. But how about when the Bishops express their opinions on carbon emissions or voting processes or (gasp) immigration reform? Then even those “good” Catholics may disagree. This just makes common sense. Euthanasia and abortion are quite different matters from things like a secure national border or the use of voter identification cards.
Catholics, just like everyone else, have minds and consciences given to us by God. He wants us to make prudent use of them. We can debate among ourselves and we can charitably question our Bishops when we draw different conclusions than they do. This is what a family does. Disagreeing, done with respect and in an effort to mutually understand one another is a healthy process. We don’t check our minds at the door when we go to Mass.
In these past days and weeks, the issue of immigration is very much in the news. We’ve seen Bishops celebrating Mass at the border. We know that some Bishops are encouraging the reception of foreign citizens into their cities. Many Bishops have issued statements encouraging some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. Legislation that attempts to regulate a “pathway to citizenship” process is frequently mentioned. The USCCB has outlined a program that they recommend including a foreign-worker program, the reunification of separated families, ensuring due-process for migrants and seeking long-term solutions to the causes of migration. The Bishops also recognize the legitimate role of the U.S. government in securing our borders and intercepting those attempting to enter our country by illegal means (Comprehensive Immigration Reform, USCCB, August 2013).
In a perfect world, people seeking a better life for themselves and their families would be freely able to seek out better circumstances without undue hardship. But this is far from a perfect world and in our striving for workable solutions, we struggle and we disagree—even with our Bishops. For the sake of our faith, our country and furthering social justice, we have to keep talking with one another. Our Bishops have to listen to opposing solutions and the faithful have to be open to compromise. All of us have to be patient and prayerful. We need to respect each other’s opinions and work together to find a way out of this complicated immigration mess.
This is a good time to recall an old Catholic prayer for guidance:
“Lord, guide us in Your gentle mercy, for left to ourselves we cannot do Your will. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever. Amen.”
“A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in…and how many want out.”
Former Prime Minister of the UK
(1997 – 2007)