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WASHINGTON, D.C., June 26, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Tucson Bishop Edward Weisenberger’s call for canonical penalties for Catholics involved in enforcing U.S. immigration law doesn’t reconcile with Canon Law, a noted U.S. canon lawyer and Catholic priest said. 

Asked on The World Over with Raymond Arroyo last Thursday about Weisenberger’s controversial call earlier this month, Father Gerald Murray also pointed that neither working for the government in border protection nor enforcing U.S. immigration law that may include separating children from illegal immigrants on their way to jail is a crime.

“I was surprised, Raymond, when I heard that, because canonical penalties apply to crimes that you commit according to Canon Law,” said Murray. “And working for the border agency is not a crime, enforcing the United States law is not a crime.” 

“You can question the justice of the law,” he said, “but the remedy for that is advocacy and trying to convince the legislature to change it.” 

Murray also offered the reminder that when someone crosses the border illegally, they have, in fact, broken the law. He said parents who put their children in this precarious situation bare some responsibility.

He also noted that when an adult is incarcerated it’s not standard procedure in the first place to leave the incarcerated person’s children with them while detained, and this is for the child’s own protection.  

“You can have different points of view on this question of family separation,” Murray said. “You know you can look at it from the point of view of saying it’s regrettable that parents and kids are separated at the border, but you can also say, why are parents trying to bring kids in illegally – Don’t they know there’s a risk that that might happen?” 

“So I would not counsel at all even looking at the subject of canonical penalties,” he said, “because people doing their jobs conscientiously are not committing any canonical crime.”


Arroyo countered that those who support the idea of canonical penalties for those involved in following immigration law would say this is an unjust law, likening the situation to people working at Nazi concentrations camps and thus supporting something inherently evil. 

“It’s not,” Murray stated, “because if someone commits a crime and they happen to have children, the children are not allowed in the jail cell with them, they’re separated. People should know that if they break the law there are consequences.”

It’s wrong to say border agents are guilty of violating Canon Law for doing their job, he said.

“Now if people want to have open immigration, they can argue that point of view,” said Murray, “but you can’t say to the border agent, “You have to agree with my point of view and ignore U.S. law when called upon to carry out your duties.” 

“And by the way, were a humane people,” he added, “these children are being put in circumstances where they’re trying to be helped, and I don’t consider this any way near a criminal activity by the border agents, that’s wrong.”

The bishops: Immigration is a ‘life issue’

Weisenberger, also a canon lawyer, had issued his call for canonical penalties June 13 at the USCCB Spring Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, during which the Bishops talked at length about immigration in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ issuing stricter limitations for asylum claims based on domestic violence and gang violence earlier this month.

USCCB President Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo had issued a statement at the beginning of the Bishops’ meeting saying asylum “is an instrument to preserve the right to life,” and condemning family separation at the border. 

The statement did not address managing inauthentic asylum claims, children trafficked into the U.S. or used by unrelated adults to pose as families – which Reuters has reported accounts for as much as 13% of children presented at the border – or the countless children  – 10,000 of the 12,000 in U.S. custody, according to the Department of Homeland Security – separated from their families when sent across the border on their own.

After the release of DiNardo’s statement Weisenberger wasn’t alone in making provocative comments during the Bishops’ immigration discussion. A number said immigration was a “life issue.”

Canon 915

It was Weisenberger’s comments that generated the most controversy, especially because pro-life supporters have waited in earnest for years for the bishops as a whole to enforce Canon 915 for pro-abortion politicians, and not just the very few who have done so.

Canon 915 of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Abortion has been deemed a moral evil “since the first century, according to the Catechism. “This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”

There is no Catholic dogma on immigration policy, as it is a prudential issue. Catholics in good conscience can disagree on the on how best to address the immigration issue. 

The Tucson bishop’s call for canonical penalties for Catholic border agents and the Bishops’ impassioned immigration discussion at their meeting did little to dispel the belief held many pro-life advocates that immigration tops the Bishops’ list of priorities in favor of the life issue. 

Weisenberger said, “In light of the canonical penalties that are there for life issues, I’m simply asking the question of perhaps our canonical affairs committee could give recommendations at least to those of us who are border bishops on the possibility of Canonical penalties for Catholics who are involved in this.”

The time is there for “a prophetic statement,” he said, and that the canonical penalties are in place first and foremost to heal those who break them – something pro-life advocates have also long argued in regard to pro-abortion politicians.

“And therefore for the salvation of people's souls,” Weisenberger said. “Maybe its time for us to look at canonical penalties.”

Arroyo noted during the latest Papal Posse segment that the way immigration law is now, kids are required to be released after 20 days and as of 2015 there are no family detention centers, and asked Murray and The Catholic Thing’s Robert Royal how it’s possible to keep families together while enforcing the border.

Royal said the issue was complicated and no one likes the idea of innocent children being separated from parents. The issue would not be easily legislated or moved through Congress, he said, and it’s important to debate it for as humane a solution as is possible. 

Some seventy-percent of Americans say they don’t want children separated from parents at the border, he said, while that same number supports a zero tolerance policy on immigration.  

“I actually have a certain amount of trust in the border agents themselves many who are Hispanic themselves and know the concrete situation better than most of us,” Royal said.

Royal noted that his wife is an immigrant, and having come to the States legally, she gets frustrated when people jump the line – which is also part of the moral continuum, he said. Royal also pointed out that the U.S. has one of the most generous systems for legal immigration. 

Murray remarked how Catholic teaching allows for a nation to have sovereignty and uphold its borders.

“Immigration is how we treat our fellow human beings,” said Murray, “and particularly cases of people who are coming here for various reasons.” 

“But a nation has a right according to the Catechism to regulate immigration and to regulate who gets in to the country under what circumstances,” he said. “So having borders is not an offense against other nations.”

“Now how it’s handled is a political decision,” he continued. “We do not like children being separated from their parents. But the message to the parents on the other side of the border is, “Don’t try and get in here illegally with your children, because you’re going to risk being separated from them.” 

Murray, Royal and Arroyo concurred that great care must be taken to ensure that children are not trafficked into the country via false asylum requests or illegal border crossings.