Sudden Respect for the Pope's Political Views - on Illegal Immigration

While papal opposition to abortion is dismissed as "doctrinal hardness," the Church's support of illegal immigration is treated as profound.

The Times' coverage ofPope Benedict XVI three days in New York City was mostly respectful, but the paper didn't pass up a chance to usethewords of the Pope to push the paper's liberal line of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

A front-page story on Sunday by Daniel Wakin and Julia Preston, "Speaking Up for Immigrants, Pontiff Touches a Flash Point," dwelled favorably on the Pope and hissoft immigration stand.

That's a shift from how the Times plays the Pope's more conservative views, such as his defense of "the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb or "America's sexualized culture." Last week the Times referred to the Pope's doctrinal opposition to abortion and homosexuality as "doctrinal hardness."

Even as he was flying to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of protecting immigrant families, not dividing them.

He raised the issue again in a meeting on Wednesday with President Bush, and later that day spoke in Spanish to the church's "many immigrant children." And when he ends his visit to New York on Sunday, he will be sent off by a throng of the faithful, showing off the ethnic diversity of American Catholicism.

The choreography underscores the importance to the church here of its growing diversity - especially its increasing Hispanic membership.

Of the nation's 65 million Roman Catholics, 18 million are Latino, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and they account for more than two-thirds of the new Catholics in the country since 1960.

Millions of other recent arrivals come from Asia and Africa. More and more parishes depend on priests brought from abroad to serve the flock.

Benedict has calibrated his immigration stance with care, stating the need to protect family unity and immigrants' human rights, but pointedly avoiding any specifics of the American immigration debate, like the issue of whether to grant legal status to illegal immigrants. Yet last week his visit quickly stirred the crosscurrents of the debate.


....some members of the Catholic hierarchy said they were shocked that on the same day that Benedict and President Bush affirmed in a joint statement the need for a policy that treats immigrants humanely and protects their families, federal agents were conducting raids at five chicken plants. They arrested more than 300 immigrants accused of being illegal workers.

The timing was coincidental, immigration officials said, and it was not clear whether the pope had known about the arrests when he met with Mr. Bush.

But the raids surprised some American Catholic leaders, who are often on the forefront of advocacy for immigrant rights.

The Times got statements from several pro-amnesty U.S. bishops, including the "stunned" Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles.

The pope also dwelled on the negative impact of family separation. Several bishops took that as a direct reference to the impact of previous immigration raids and deportations, in which illegal immigrant parents were separated from spouses and children who were United States citizens or legal immigrants.

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City was concerned that Catholics were arrested:

"It did strike me as inappropriate. The pope comes as a man of peace, a man of good will, the leader of a major religion. Many of the persons arrested were Catholic."

When it comes to illegal immigration, the Times, never known as being particularly pro-religious, is suddenly hanging on every the bishops say. The paper concluded with more from Mahony and a "secular advocate for immigrants." (Why not write "liberal advocate for illegal immigrants"?)

In a letter in December, Cardinal Mahony chastised all the presidential candidates for campaigns that he said had "inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment in the country." Since then the three remaining candidates, Senators John McCain of Arizona, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have lowered the volume on the immigration issue.

Secular advocates for immigrants also welcomed the pope's words. "That's big news," said Teresa Gutierrez, a coordinator for the May 1st Coalition for Immigrant and Workers Rights. "Any decent comment about the reality of what's really happening to immigration in the United States coming from such a prestigious person as the pope is extremely helpful."