FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - As the U.S. bishops discuss immigration, one bishop says the Church should punish Catholic government officials who enforce the president's immigration policies. Critics have noted no similar calls to punish pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage officials.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) began its biannual meeting on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The meeting opened with a special focus on immigration policies, and several bishops condemned the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tuscon, Arizona even suggested using canon law to punish those responsible for splitting up families. Possessing a degree in canon law, the bishop said, "Even though what I am saying may be risky or dangerous, I think it's important to point out that canonical penalties are there in place to heal — first and foremost to heal."
He continued, "And therefore for the salvation of these people's souls, maybe it's time for us to look at canonical penalties."
When the USCCB's Twitter account shared Bp. Weisenburger's comments, many Catholics lashed back, calling the proposal indicative of a fixation with immigration issues. One Twitter user responded, "At the border of the placenta? 'Womb to tomb' or go home, you're trolling."
A canon lawyer told Church Militant that the proposition is ill-defined, asking rhetorically:
Would these proposed canonical penalties also be applied to court officials who separate children from parents arrested for other crimes? If, say, a single mother commits larceny with her children in tow, and the police, upon arresting her, place the children in foster care, would those officers be subject to these proposed penalties? Are the bishops proposing the erection of family-friendly jails and detention facilities?
Some Catholics have celebrated Bp. Weisenburger's comments. In response to his suggestion, Bp. John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky claimed he has spoken with border patrol employees "struggling in their own consciences with how do they carry out these unjust policies."
Other Catholics have complained, pointing out that many U.S. bishops refuse to apply canonical penalties to those who support abortion.
In Bp. Weisenburger's own diocese of Tuscon, Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva is a nominal Catholic who supports abortion on demand.
Bishop Weisenburger, who was transferred to Tuscon in late 2017 from Salina, Kansas, has issued no statements calling for similar canonical penalties against Grijalva or other Catholic politicians who support the intrinsic evils of abortion or gay marriage.
In Salina, he joined the other Kansas bishops in producing a YouTube video in 2016 called "Reflections on the 2016 Election by the Catholic Bishops of Kansas."
In the video, the bishops talk about issues like health care for the poor, immigration and environmental stewardship. The video says about abortion, "All Catholics have a moral obligation to keep this human rights catastrophe [of abortion] at the forefront of their minds when voting."
The bishops' video also emphasized the issue of religious liberty for America's Christians.
On June 4, the bishops of Arizona (including Bp. Weisenburger) issued a joint statement emphasizing "the critical need to protect immigrant children and families seeking safety from violence by keeping them together."
At the American bishops' biannual meeting, immigration has been a prominent topic of discussion. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, USCCB president and archbishop of Galveston-Houston, delivered a stern rebuke on Wednesday of the federal government's recent move to tighten the definition of asylum for immigrants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided on Monday that asylum would only apply to migrants fleeing systemic persecution based on sex, race or ethnic group, religious beliefs or political views. This overturned the Obama administration's broader use of asylum statutes, which included victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
Sessions argued that he is restoring logical consistency to the law based on how asylum is defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act.