I spoke with a reporter last week, leading to a quotation in this article. To wit:
Joe Knippenberg, an online columnist for the conservative American Enterprise, called Mahony a political grandstander.
"What Cardinal Mahony did there was run the risk of becoming a mere political actor and then sort of trading the prophetic voice for a mere political voice," Knippenberg said. "What’s the difference between a church worker who defies what he or she sees as an unjust law or human smuggler who defies what he or she sees as an unjust law?"
Considering that I prefaced my remarks by insisting upon the importance of the prophetic religious voice in politics and that I carefully noted the distinction between human smugglers and church workers who provided aid to those who arrived at their doorstep, I’d say that my statements were taken out of context.
Here’s what I said in
the op-ed that got the reporter’s attention:
But a Cardinal ought not to regard himself as an ordinary political actor. Mahony ought to have thought about two other consequences of his gesture. First, by implicitly comparing the Church to those at whom the law is really directed, he gives the brazenly cynical traffickers in humanity moral and political cover. They’re simply humanitarians, they can say, just like their brothers and sisters in the Church.
I also called his attention to this NLT post, in which I made the following version of my argument:
Does Cardinal Mahony think it should be a crime actually to assist people to cross the border illegally, regardless of one’s motives in so doing? It’s one thing to help out immigrants, no questions asked, who present themselves at your doorstep. It’s another altogether to help them into the country. I take it that everyone thinks the "coyotes" are despicable criminals. What if "well-intentioned humanitarians" got into the business, arguing that sneaking into the country is inevitable, that the border is a meaningless line anyway, that as citizens of the world, we should share our wealth and resources, and that decent folks would actually help, rather than exploit, the immigrants? I don’t know whether this is a fanciful scenario or not. I do know that Cardinal Mahony’s argument, surely unintentionally, worked to diminish the difference between compassionate humanitarians and human traffickers.
I think Mahony’s stance unintentionally elides the difference between humanitarians and human traffickers, providing a certain moral cover to the coyotes by offering a blanket moral condemnation of the law.
I also called the reporter’s attention to
this letter from Congressmen Sensenbrenner, Hyde, and King, which explicitly disavows the intent to go after church workers who help illegal immigrants.
Bottom line: I simply pointed out a risk in Cardinal Mahony’s statements-- in his blanket condemnation of the House bill and his threat to defy it, should it become law, he, presumably unintentionally, overlooks the distinction between humanitarians and human exploiters.