In January, when the Catholic Church in the United States was supposedly devoting all of Her efforts to preventing taxpayer funding of abortion in ObamaCare, America’s Catholic bishops took a distracting detour, announcing a nationwide “Justice for Immigrants” campaign.  Their goal: to distribute millions of postcards to parishes throughout the country so Catholics could demand that Congress “enact immigration reform as soon as possible.”  Two months later, the bishops expressed shock and chagrin when ObamaCare passed with abortion funding intact.  But one leading prelate, Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, revealed the bishops’ real priorities.  Summarizing an interview with him, Catholic News Services writes,

Now that a health care bill will help millions of uninsured people receive affordable medical care, . . . it’s time for the government to address the millions of people who are living in the shadows because they lack legal immigration status.

Mahony’s candor reflects an infection in America’s Catholic Church that has been festering for decades.  Catholic bishops are charged with proclaiming and defending the timeless teachings of the Church on faith and morals.  Even those who disagree are not surprised when the Church teaches that abortion is an intrinsic evil.  After all, the bishops must faithfully preserve and defend 2,000 years of teaching and tradition.

That is a full-time job, so the Church insists that those political and social issues on which good and faithful Catholics can disagree should be left to the laity.  In recent decades, however, America’s bishops have become a national lobbying force that routinely weighs in on issues ranging from inflation, welfare, taxes, and socialized medicine to the price of tomatoes in Florida.  Amnesty for illegal aliens fits right in with an agenda that has become increasingly partisan, radical, and secular.  This unseemly development mystifies not only Catholics but many other Americans who wish the Church well.  Setting aside the question of the merits of amnesty, how and why do the bishops so ardently support it?

According to Francis Cardinal George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the bishops’ agenda is “moral, not political.”  This past April, he explained what that means: “Justice without love is destructive, as Marxist societies, founded on equality and social justice alone, teach the world.”

The term social justice (socials iustitiae), relatively new to Catholic theology, was first employed by Pius XI in 1931.  The left quickly hijacked it to confer upon its socialist agenda a bogus Christian character.  Finally, after 80 years of this chicanery, a leading Catholic bishop in the United States has admitted that, in its current and almost universal use, social justice is Marxist.

And that poses a problem, because the Church is not Marxist.  In fact, She has repeatedly condemned Marxism because it is materialistic and denies human nature altogether.  Marxism denies metaphysics and the transcendent.  It denies Christ as the Lord of history because it reduces history to an endless, world-immanent class struggle.  It denies Christ as Savior because that role belongs to the party.  Yet Cardinal George apparently believes that, with a dose of love, Marxist “social justice” will produce a truly Christian society.  How a government can love—especially our current secular, virulently anti-Catholic one—he does not say.  But Marxism thrives on contradiction, and so does Cardinal George’s USCCB.  Nor is this anything new: The bishops’ 1979 “Pastoral Letter On Racism” blamed the evil of racism not on the human heart but on “racial injustices in society and its own structures.”  So it is structures, not hearts, that must be changed.  This intoxicating Marxist aroma has permeated the entire social-justice movement of left-wing Catholicism for years.

Clericalism, an age-old error constantly condemned by the Church, also plays a role.  Like the layman, the bishop has the right to hold private political opinions on issues about which good Catholics (and bishops) can disagree.  The problem arises when a bishop attempts to elevate his particular personal opinion to the level of Church teaching.  This constitutes an abuse of the prelate’s authority and confuses not only the faithful but the public.  The practice has also diluted the genuine authority of the Church to the point that most bishops are afraid to exercise it—as though they had lost the authority to teach anything at all.

It is especially distressing to see politicized bishops cloak their agenda in religious language, as though no good Catholic—or good person—could possibly disagree.  Countless bishops have echoed Cardinal Mahony’s thinly veiled canard that amnesty opponents are immoral.  In July 2008, he told an immigration rally that enforcement of current law was “fanning the flames of intolerance, xenophobia and, at times, bigotry.”  I can find no record of Cardinal Mahony—or any other bishop or USCCB official, for that matter—condemning the blatant racism of La Raza (“The Race”), a pro-amnesty agitation machine that is very powerful in Mahony’s own archdiocese.  Such self-serving moral posturing ill serves—and even perverts—the Church’s mission to “go and teach all nations”; it scandalizes good Catholics; and it is thoroughly lacking in charity.

But it pleases the left on Capitol Hill.

As staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I worked with Chris Dodd, John Kerry, and Joe Biden for years.  These men—all pro-abortion Catholics—would be hiding under their desks instead of brazenly flaunting their “Catholicism” in the face of the hierarchy, if the bishops acted like bishops.

Instead, the bishops are their lapdogs.  Why?  Over the past century, America’s Catholic bishops have largely identified the Church with the Democratic Party.  When Pope Benedict XV attempted to bring an early end to World War I, America’s leading prelate, James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, supported President Wilson.  In 1917, he admonished Americans to embrace “obedience and devotion to our country”—meaning Wilson’s government and Wilson’s war.

The alliance of the American Catholic hierarchy with the Democratic Party took a great leap forward during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, when the Rev. John R. Ryan, a key advocate of “social justice” in the bishops’ conference, so zealously supported FDR that people called him Monsignor New Deal.  Since then, many bishops have continued to move left with the Democrats, becoming cheerleaders for a host of left-wing causes.  While they constantly advocate higher spending, inflation, and taxes in program after program, they never bring up such unpleasant topics as “Thou shalt not steal.”

Moreover, like most Catholics their age—myself included—the vast majority of today’s American bishops grew up in Democratic families.  They have stayed with the Democrats despite the party’s pro-abortion, leftward momentum.  And they effortlessly translate their political prejudices into Catholic “morality” at every opportunity.

That faux morality has become radicalized as the Democrats have, and it has also become quite selective: While our bishops beat the drum for left-wing political agendas, they ignore vital moral absolutes that are every bishop’s consecrated duty to defend.  Opposing abortion would seem to be obvious, but not for Cardinal Mahony.  When asked last fall whether he thought that the healthcare bill funded abortion, he replied, “This is way beyond my field.  My field is immigration.”  Does that sound like a prince of the Church or like a Senate staffer?

The bishop’s responsibilities go far beyond opposing abortion.  He is obligated to defend truths that are even more unpopular.  One of those authoritative moral teachings defines artificial contraception as an intrinsic evil, right up there with abortion.  Yet, while bishops busily enlist millions of Catholics to lobby for amnesty, I have yet to see them demand that Congress oppose the billions of taxpayer dollars that support contraceptive programs designed to reduce Third World populations (many of them Catholic) in the name of “development.”  Why the silence?

Then, of course, there’s the money.  Under Lyndon Johnson, Catholic universities quickly declared independence from the Vatican so they could get the newly available Omnibus Education funding.  Catholic Charities, USA, soon followed suit and now receives over two billion dollars per year from the taxpayer.  Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, Cardinal George’s predecessor and Barack Obama’s favorite Catholic bishop, carefully transformed the USCCB into one of the most powerful liberal lobbies in Washington.  Ever since, with donations from the pews declining, Bernardin and his successors have turned to the government for financing.  Today, Catholic charities, universities, schools, and hospitals receive more from the government than ever before—billions of dollars each year.  Politicians in Washington naturally expect the beneficiaries of their largesse to respond accordingly.  Alas, the bishops have.

The USCCB bureaucracy includes a sizeable crew of committed leftists with a sordid history of passing out millions of the faithful’s donations to radical groups and causes.  Advertising themselves as “experts,” they have bamboozled the bishops for years and have often caused scandals of their own.  After an especially vile instance, when Richmond (Virginia) Catholic Charities employees actually procured an abortion for a minor under their care, USCCB leaders were forced to admit—to no one’s surprise—that their staff “experts” were unfamiliar with even the basic tenets of Catholic moral teaching.

The clerical sex-abuse scandal has also taken a heavy toll.  When it erupted in 2002, the only bishops willing to quit were those directly involved in abuse or blackmail.  Although a tiny percentage of priests were abusers, over 100 bishops who had protected them insisted on staying on.  Their prolonged state of denial has exacerbated further the greatest scandal in the history of the American Catholic Church, yet many guilty prelates still refuse to retire, no matter how deeply involved they were.

A bishop weakened by the abuse scandals might feel mighty uncomfortable condemning the scandalous Catholic politicians who publicly flaunt their support for abortion.  Could it be that these Catholic politicians—including Biden, Pelosi, Durbin, Leahy, the Kennedys, Kerry, and countless others—might shut off the water and stop funding the bishops if they did their job?

In 2007, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Catholic, sent a shot across the bow of any bishop who might be thinking of barring him from Communion.  Asked what he thought of the prospect of being denied the Eucharist, he exploded: “I’ve always thought also that those bishops and archbishops who for decades hid pederasts and are now being protected by the Vatican should be indicted,” he told a Capitol Hill newspaper.  No wonder so many of our bishops have chosen to remain silent.  The mere prospect of a subpoena from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is enough to chill the spine of any bishop who still has one.

That’s the big picture—but the particulars of the immigration issue also influence the bishops to attenuate their traditional teaching role.  Consider the numbers: As the bishops moved left, a lot of the people in the pews moved out.  A recent comprehensive study by the Pew Charitable Trust reveals that fully ten percent of Americans—over 30 million—are ex-Catholics.  Will the bishops concentrate their efforts on drawing them back—or on replacing them?

The USCCB appears to have chosen the latter route.  Even though Pope Benedict XVI said in April that the “fundamental solution” to immigration lies in “offering citizens work and a future in their land of origin,” American prelates support keeping the illegals here, giving them a “path to citizenship,” and eventually reuniting then with their families—here, not in their home countries.

I have never encountered a USCCB document that addresses the danger that amnesty would permanently import to our country tens of millions of people who have been raised to survive in a culture of corruption in countless countries overseas.  For decades, the bishops have supported the expansion of an increasingly secular, power-hungry government in virtually every sphere—except abortion—ignoring the sad likelihood that tens of millions of new Hispanic voters will ensure the domination of the pro-abortion junta in Washington for generations to come.

The Pew study reports that about one third of all Catholics in the United States are now Latinos, and two thirds of Latinos are Catholics.  And U.S. census figures indicate that Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.  (There are over six times as many Hispanics under 18 as there are over 65.)  With amnesty, that percentage will increase—rapidly.

Pew reports that most Catholic Latinos are Democrats.  Most illegals are also poor, and the bishops love the poor; for years they have advocated mandatory “government charity”—financed by higher taxes—to support them.  So the pro-amnesty bishops, seeing the writing on the wall, might welcome it, even though it will result in a different Church and a different country.

How do bishops view the country they have?  They teach that it is structurally racist.  It has aborted 50 million babies since Roe v. Wade.  America’s wealthy (the minority who pay federal taxes) selfishly oppose the bishops’ leftist agenda.  So, too, do the people still in the pews, according to a recent Zogby poll.  The faithful, burdened by higher taxes, don’t donate as much as they used to.  And the laity were mad as hell and gave the bishops grief because of their cover-up of the abuse scandals.

According to the World Bank, there are 2.2 billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars per day.  How many of them do the bishops want to let in?