We gather here today at an important juncture in the political life of our nation.
On one level, we are witnessing the peaceful transition of federal political power from one party to another, a tradition of governance which has been central to the American experiment in democracy for more than two centuries. For the Catholic community, this shift in the political culture signals greater progress in the vital areas of protecting the unborn and religious liberty, but greater challenges in addressing the critical questions of poverty, immigration and the environment. It is essential that in this moment, which has followed a deeply destructive political campaign, citizens and public leaders do not follow the example of many political opponents of President Obama who from his election onward worked toward the failure of his presidency. Such an oppositional pathway is destructive, contrary to the American tradition and in contradiction to the Catholic teaching that calls citizens to support their national leaders in their efforts to advance the common good. Thus it is important for both the Catholic community and the nation as a whole to pray for President-elect Trump and the new Congress as they take office, and to contribute to making them effective instruments in advancing the deepest aspirations of the Founders of our nation.
But our political responsibility as Catholics and citizens does not end there. For there is a profound sickness in the soul in American political life. This sickness tears at the fabric of our nation’s unity, undermining the core democratic consensus that is the foundation for our identity as Americans. It is our responsibility to heal our nation through actions of civic engagement which lie beyond the boundaries of party structures, and indeed of government itself.
This will require altering the role of partisanship in our individual, social and national lives. Party choice has ceased to be merely a political category and instead has become a wider form of personal identity. This often has searing negative impacts within families, friendships and civic life, as citizens increasingly confine themselves within partisan media and culture silos, and are encouraged in their anger against those who disagree.
Healing our nation will also require recapturing a sense of solidarity in our country’s social, political and economic life. The principle of solidarity, in Catholic social teaching “requires that men and women of our day cultivate a greater awareness that they are debtors of the society of which they have become a part.” It is from this recognition that the most central bonds of cultural and societal union can be born. Pope John Paul II, the major architect of this social doctrine, pointed unceasingly to the reality that all of us as citizens are bound together in God’s grace and commitment “to the good of one’s neighbor, with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to lose one self for the sake of the other rather than exploiting him.”
Finally, we must turn as a society from selective outrage based upon partisan and ideological categories to a comprehensive compassion for all those who are suffering in our midst, combined with care, analysis and action. The reality that young black men fear for their security when facing law enforcement, the sense of dispossession felt by young white men in the Rust Belt without a college education, the fear that police face every day trying to protect society, rampant patterns of sexual harassment and assault directed against women, the institutionalized patterns of poverty and ever increasing economic inequality in America – these are all wounds in our society which must be addressed.
It is to address one of these major wounds of American society that we gather today here in San Diego. For during the past months the specter of a massive deportation campaign aimed at ripping more than ten million undocumented immigrants from their lives and families has realistically emerged as potential federal policy. We must label this policy proposal for what it is – an act of injustice which would stain our national honor in the same manner as the progressive dispossessions of the Native American peoples of the United States and the interment of the Japanese.
For us, as the Catholic community of the United States, it is unthinkable that we will stand by while more than ten percent of our flock is ripped from our midst and deported. It is equally unthinkable that we as Church will witness the destruction of our historic national outreach to refugees at a time when the need to offer safe haven to refugees is growing throughout the world.
It is important to keep in mind that in recent days President-elect Trump has signaled a more focused immigration policy aimed at staunching the flow of new undocumented immigrants at the border and deporting those guilty of substantive crimes. And it is important to engage in dialogue with the administration and Congress to try to achieve the just application of these two principles.
But a stance of waiting has its perils. For it can lead to the ever greater normalization of mass deportations which will be harder to stop down the road. And this waiting has a horrendous price in the suffering which is already occurring within the undocumented community within our nation who are paralyzed by the fear of the unknown and the harshness of statements made during the campaign.
That is why the maintenance of the current policy on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is so important as a trip-wire which will signal the administration’s long-term intent on deportation policy. The DREAMers are everything that Americans seek in those who enter into our society: eighty five percent have lived in the United States for more than ten years; ninety three percent have a high school degree, and forty percent attended college. Eighty-nine percent have a job and pay taxes. If the new administration eliminates existing protections for these model citizens who will contribute so manifestly to building an America which is truly great, it will be an unmistakable sign that the new administration is embarking upon the pathway of massive deportation, and the Catholic community must move immediately to wide-scale opposition. And we must move with the same energy, commitment and immediacy that have characterized Catholic opposition on the issues of abortion and religious liberty in recent years. The Church can never acquiesce in or cooperate with such a grave evil in our society.
Yesterday we entered the season of Advent. And Advent is a time of waiting. But for the Jewish people, waiting was not a passive activity. It was a time of building justice, proclaiming God’s Word and deepening unity. Let these days be for us just such a time of waiting, in order to discern more fully the intentions of our new government. But in our waiting let us always remember that we are called to be the people of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses, and the disciples of the Jesus who himself was refugee and immigrant. And in that waiting, let us always make clear that we stand with the undocumented and the refugee communities in this moment of suffering in a bond of accompaniment and protection which will only grow stronger as the threats grow more profound.