Monday, April 17, 2006

A new poll shows U.S. Catholics, like Americans at large, oppose granting amnesty to illegal aliens, despite their bishops’ stance in favor of such a path to citizenship.

“Catholics appear to be slightly to the left of the American public at large on the issue of immigration,” said Zogby spokesman Fritz Wenzel, adding they are not as liberal as the U.S. bishops, who have issued six pastoral letters on immigration in the past 20 years.

When asked “Do you support or oppose amnesty for undocumented workers who are already in the U.S.?” 34 percent of Catholics said they support it, 49 percent oppose it and 15 percent were unsure. Fifty-two percent of Americans overall oppose amnesty while 32 percent support it, according to a Zogby survey taken from March 31 to April 3.

“Catholics are slightly more in favor of granting amnesty to undocumented workers already working in America,” Mr. Wenzel said. “They are slightly less concerned that increased rights for those workers could lead to split allegiances among those workers between America and Mexico, and they trust Democrats slightly more than Republicans to better handle the immigration issue.”

But despite Catholics’ generally softer stance on immigration, their bishops go much further by supporting an “earned legalization” program for illegals. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has said he’d go to jail rather than follow a proposed law that he said would require priests to demand legal documentation before assisting immigrants, and Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick gave the opening speech at a recent massive immigration rally on the Mall.

“It does not surprise me that Catholics do not fully line up with U.S. bishops’ position on immigration,” said the Rev. Rick Ryscavage, former executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ immigration office. “It is really a ‘teaching’ position and quite countercultural, not easily accepted.”

In the Zogby survey, age made a difference in Catholic attitudes. Forty-five percent of Catholics ages 18-29 supported amnesty compared with 23 percent of those older than 60.

A question on whether immigration quotas from certain countries should be tightened found 36.6 percent saying yes, 47.6 percent saying no and 16.8 percent not sure. The Catholic respondents in the Zogby survey numbered 2,055 persons out of a total of 7,967 persons polled. The survey’s Catholic data have a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points. More than 40 percent of the nation’s 67 million Catholics are Hispanic.

Hispanics themselves are divided on the topic, said Edwin Hernandez, a research fellow for the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Citing a 2004 Pew survey of the political views of 2,228 Hispanics, he said 36 percent of Catholic Hispanics favored increasing the amount of legal immigrants, compared with 27 percent of Protestant Hispanics.

“The recent immigrants tend to be Roman Catholics,” Mr. Hernandez said, “whereas Protestants are mostly second- and third-generation overall.” Many of the latter are former Catholics, he said, adding his own center’s research has shown one-quarter of the Hispanics who arrive in the U.S. as Catholics later switch to Protestant churches.

Father Ryscavage said the bishops’ theology of immigration was first set out in Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” affirming all peoples’ right to work. Then Pope Pius XII’s 1952 encyclical “Exsul Familia” identified immigration as a human right.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. …

“Political authorities … may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.”

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