- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

The archbishop responsible for shepherding Pope Benedict XVI around Washington next month cautioned the United States against deporting immigrants wholesale and called on America to act “responsibly” in Iraq.

In a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times yesterday, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl addressed several issues: immigration, school vouchers, pro-choice Catholic politicians, the Internet and the papal visit.

He has raised $3 million from private donors for the pope’s April 15-18 sojourn in Washington and hopes to bring in $1 million more.

  • TWT Video: Archbishop discusses Papal visit

  • “We would like to be able for him to leave the world’s wealthiest nation, the world’s one superpower, with a gift he could use for the poor around the world,” he said.

    Addressing some of the issues on the minds of the some 67 million U.S. Catholics, he predicted that America’s Catholic schools will continue to close without government vouchers. The Washington archdiocese will close seven schools this spring and turn them over to be run by a charter group.

    “The whole idea of vouchers is that the money that we all pay in taxes for education should follow the child,” he said. “The child is being educated at the school the parents decide on. Until that happens, we’re just going to gradually see a continual challenge to the ability of the church to sustain all of these schools, particularly in the poorest, urban areas.”

    When asked his position on stepped-up efforts — especially in Virginia’s Prince William County — to arrest and deport illegal immigrants, the archbishop said the reasons why immigrants came to the U.S. are “history.”

    Meanwhile, “they are here, their children are American citizens, and they are part of our family,” he said. “Is the next step some sort of regularizing of their situation or a collection of these people to deport them? Those are questions to be resolved by people we elect.

    “But while they are resolving them, we have to keep in mind that these are human beings. If you say, should we round up all 10 to 12 million people simply because they are here and deport them? I do not think that is a humane answer.”

    As for the war in Iraq, “we’re there,” he said.

    “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said the goal is to get out of Iraq, but to do it in a responsible way. But we will have to do that in a way that doesn’t cause more problems for the people there.”

    The archbishop also weighed in on pro-choice Catholics, another sticky issue considering the presence of many such politicians on Capitol Hill.

    “What we are dealing with is a judgment about whether or not voting for legislation to allow something evil to happen is the same thing as doing the evil act itself,” he said. “We just had a long discussion among the bishops on all the different elements in the application of canon law, and there are all kinds of questions you have to answer before you come to the conclusion that [excommunication] must be done.

    “I think this is where we have to do a lot of teaching. We must explain to people why what they are doing is so bad, why voting for legislation that allows terrible things to happen is itself a bad thing. We have to help them understand that.”

    At what point does such a teaching phase end, he was asked by one Times editor who noted that it had been more than 30 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion and more than 20 years since then-Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York outlined a pro-choice Catholic stance in a speech at the University of Notre Dame.

    “In most of the great moral issues, how long did it take after Rerum Novarum [Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on the rights of laborers] before there was social legislation that adequately treated workers in the United States?” he asked. “How long did it take before we as a nation said slavery was wrong? The church has to continue to teach.”

    However, Archbishop Wuerl said that does not mean he would never excommunicate anyone.

    “I didn’t say that,” he replied. “But you have to also ask yourself: Is that the best pastoral solution to the problem? Will that bring about what you want: the conversion of heart and getting a person to change their mind?”

    Archbishop Wuerl said, “Following the example of Jesus in the New Testament — He spent his time trying to convert, persuade, teach, convince. I believe that’s our strength as a church.”

    But the Catholic Church “is not anywhere near where it should be” on Internet evangelism, he acknowledged.

    “I do not think we have done nearly enough to get into the world of modern communications,” he said. “This is a mantra in our pastoral center. The heart of the church is communicating God’s love. We are not anywhere near the level we should be.”

    When bishop of Pittsburgh, he recalled taping several radio messages about the Catholic faith. When he was handed a list of the stations on which he was appearing, “I only recognized a third of them,” he admitted.

    “That was the first time it dawned on me how significant the difference is between generations,” he said. “We need to be in that world and we’re not there.”

    However, youth will be a targeted group at the April 17 Mass at Nationals Stadium. The entire visit, he said, will mainly be to “affirm” U.S. Catholics in their faith.

    “And I think he will challenge us to live it out,” he added. As the official host, he will accompany the pontiff on parade routes through Washington’s streets.

    “I will be the person in the ‘Popemobile’ with the D.C. driver’s license,” he joked. The logistics may get a bit tricky, he added, because he is also the official welcomer at several of the papal venues.

    “When he comes to the [Nationals Stadium] park, I have to greet him on behalf of the archdiocese; when he comes to the Shrine, I have to greet him as chairman of the board of the Shrine and at [Catholic] University, I have to greet him as the chancellor of the university,” he said. “So that will mean a lot of quick movement on my part.”

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