The Real Seamless Garment

Last week, an earnest Catholic commentator over at the Catholic Key Blog mourned the fact that House Democrats had spoiled the chances for “immigration reform” by linking the issue to unrelated matters that scared off supporters, tainting the sacred cause of extending amnesty to illegal immigrants by wrapping it up in a rainbow flag, then hanging it out to dry on a wire coat hanger.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

The “Dream Act,” which would have given legal status to many thousands of illegal aliens whose parents snuck them in as children, was attached, as this blogger reported, to “the Defense Authorization bill. At the same time, Democrat leadership attached a provision repealing the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy and another allowing for abortions at military medical centers.”

The final bill, now a mish-mash made from the far-Left’s wish list, was voted down on September 21. Then, on September 29, two pro-abortion Catholic senators, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 (S. 3932), which (along with some cosmetic gestures aimed at border control) would offer amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. As the Catholic Key Blog reports:

It is a bill that would have the strong support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But it does not.

Utterly superfluous to immigration reform, Senator Menendez has attached the “Unite American Families Act” to his Immigration Reform Act. The UAFA would treat the “partners” of bi-national couples as married persons.

So today, Menendez got a very nice letter from Salt Lake Bishop John Wester in his capacity as US Bishops’ Migration Chair commending Menendez for his “ongoing leadership on achieving immigration reform,” but lamenting “that a controversial provision, which would confer marriage-like immigration benefits to same-sex couples, will preclude the U.S. bishops from supporting S. 3932 as introduced.”

Bishop Wester also quite reasonably observed that including UAFA “in a comprehensive immigration reform bill will make it far more difficult to achieve the compromise that will be needed in order to enact a fair and balanced comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

At this point, I am tempted to kick back and chuckle, “Ya think?” It gladdens my heart to see my opponents overreach this way, grabbing items off the shelves like a sticky-faced, gluttonous two-year-old in the candy aisle. In their misguided attempt to form a Coalition of the Victims, the Democrats are indeed making it less likely that any of these destructive bills will pass, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment’s glee in that.


But this victory may prove fleeting, unless Catholics come to understand the underlying issues involved and shake off the toxic scrupulosity our bishops have tried to foster among us on the subject of immigration — a potent winning issue for the Right, whose victory offers the only hope of defending fundamental human goods such as the sanctity of unborn life and the integrity of marriage. By pretending that prudential arguments over how to handle illegal immigration (or promote health care for the poor) are in any way comparable to black-and-white, doctrinally unambiguous issues like abortion and same-sex “marriage,” bishops like John Wester are dividing faithful Catholics and giving aid and comfort to the enemy — much as Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” provided a shroud for pro-abortion Democrats like Ted Kennedy. “Sure,” they were free to say, “I may differ with the Church on one or two issues, but so does my Republican opponent. Unlike him, I stand with the bishops’ conference on Medicaid and U.S. policy toward Neeka-RAO-gu-WAH.”

Most Western bishops are eager to keep their liberal bona fides on every issue they can — aside from a few “hot-button” topics where irreformable Catholic doctrine ties their hands. As I wrote back in 2003,

The broadly leftist positions identified with “social justice” by the Catholic Left have no basis in Catholic tradition. Most were adopted by America’s bishops’ committees, I believe, to counterbalance the seemingly “right-wing” stances on life issues which the Vatican pressured them to maintain. It didn’t hurt that the bishops’ staffers were largely drawn from Democratic hiring halls — for instance, ex-employees of the Carter Administration.

On a deeper level, many grandchildren of Catholic immigrants to our overwhelmingly Protestant country still cling to the pretence that they are outsiders — excluded and marginalized enemies of the existing American establishment. As fellow “outsiders,” they are bound to make common cause with every other “outside” group, regardless of the justice of its claims. This “outsider” illusion made it easier for us to be right about Civil Rights . . . and then poisonously wrong about feminism, gay liberation, and socialist economics. (Years before, this cultivated sense of alienation led Catholics in the 1950s to join secular Jewish groups in petitioning to throw out prayer from the public schools; they wanted it removed because it was Christian, while we opposed it because it was Protestant.)


But I want to go further, because decent people (such as the Catholic Key Blogger) really do seem to be confused, and I’m not here just to pelt them with holy water balloons. Many Catholics have been fooled by unprincipled attempts on the part of prelates to pretend that the Church favors effectively open borders, at least for wealthy countries like our own. I have refuted this myth comprehensively in dozens of articles (Google my name and “immigration”), taking on leading spokesmen for the Catholic open-borders myth such as Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles — so far, with no real response. The Catholic B. S. Generator works best when it hums silently, unexamined and out of sight.

Why is it, do you think, that men who are wrong about so many deep and fundamental issues, like Senators Leahy and Menendez, just stumble onto the truly Catholic stance on issues like immigration and economics — while the solidly pro-life, pro-family Christians who are lining up to join the Tea Party have blundered into selfish, narrow, ugly, and exclusionist positions? The answer is that they haven’t. There’s a good reason that the same people who support open borders and massive wealth redistribution also support gay marriage and legal abortion: These positions rightly go together, and flow from the same philosophical premises. Likewise, those of us who defend national sovereignty and property rights also defend the integrity of marriage and the sanctity of innocent life — because they all fit together. There is a seamless garment out there that we Catholics can rally behind — and on it is printed the motto “Don’t Tread On Me!”

First, let’s dispense with red herrings. None of this, on either side, has to do with Christian charity. Even leftist Catholics realize that this virtue, like faith and hope, cannot be imposed by the state. When they call for massive amnesties, cheap in-state tuition, welfare benefits, bilingual education and affirmative action quotas to favor illegal immigrants, pro-immigration advocates never whisper the word “charity.” What they demand is “justice,” which is all that the state is authorized to use its deadly force to ensure. So let’s take them at their word: Do illegal migrants have the moral right, such that it would be sinful to deny it to them, to move into our country and remain here against our will? Do they have the right to enter en masse, enroll their children on public assistance at our expense, impose their culture and language on our institutions, and demand that we adapt to accommodate their needs?

In all charity, I say, Hell no. It is wholesome, good, and above all natural for an existing community to defend its existing mores, culture, and institutions from such an attack. (Would Mexicans stand for a massive influx of nationalistic Japanese?) Likewise, it is natural for a community born of basically Christian mores to refuse a radical alteration in what it means by marriage — whether that means homosexual unions or polygamous Muslim families. It is equally wholesome, good, and natural for hard-working citizens to resent and resist the massive confiscation of their wealth by a government that squanders it on counterproductive social programs, massive bureaucracy, and futile foreign wars. (I wish the Tea Party people would pay a little more attention to the third element in this unholy trinity.) It is also natural to protect innocent, unborn children from being murdered merely to meet the feminist goal of leveling the playing field between the sexes. (This way, we all can escape the consequences of promiscuity.)

On all these issues, Tea Party people are following inborn, God-given human impulses to protect one’s family first, neighbors second, and countrymen third. They are standing up for community, while insisting on the real rights, in justice, of the most vulnerable among us — the millions of unborn children it is currently quite legally to kill at our whim. Leftists, for their part, wish to undermine these healthy impulses, to replace them with a twisted, pseudo-Christian conscience based on manufactured guilt and misguided compassion.

This post-Christian crazy quilt is, in its way, far darker and sicker than anything ever known in pagan Greece or Rome. We can see its logical outcome in our Mother Continent, Europe — where in some countries abortion is perfectly legal, but speech against Islamic immigration is not. By flouting these wholesome instincts on issues like immigration and economics, while trying to rouse them on others such as abortion and marriage, our bishops are proving intellectually incoherent and politically impotent. And that’s why no one much listens to them anymore, or probably ever will.




  • John Zmirak

    John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins (Crossroad). He served from October 2011 to February 2012 as editor of Crisis.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...