Archbishop José Gomez' new book “Immigration and the Next America” is being lauded for its emphasis on the good of the people and families affected by American immigration policy.
“The part that really impressed me, because it's not something you hear from either (political) party, is it puts a real emphasis on family reunification,” Michael Sean Winters, a writer at the National Catholic Reporter, told CNA July 15.
“It's not just being able to get engineers with graduate degrees from India into the country, it's being able to reunite families.”
In his book, the archbishop of Los Angeles stresses the importance of keeping families together, rather than deporting undocumented immigrants who are often parents to American-born children and “whose only crime is that they are here without the proper papers.”
Winters commented that Archbishop Gomez see that “they might not have college degrees and be teaching at Stanford, but they're human beings, and they are families that are divided by this incredibly capricious legal system that we've had.”
In contrast to Winters' praise, Los Angeles Daily News writer Tim Rutten called the archbishop's teaching “a right turn on immigration” based on the “values and historical fantasies popular on the American right” in a July 13 column.
Winters questioned to what purpose Rutten had written the column, saying, “I don't know what useful purpose that kind of article, or his reading of Archbishop Gomez' book, would serve if he's genuinely concerned about immigration reform.”
“You can read something with such a predilection that you actually miss what's being said, and I think that's what happened here,” he added.
Winters, who said Rutten's criticisms of Archbishop Gomez “just don't ring true” also responded to Rutten on his blog “Distinctly Catholic,” where he wrote that in fact, the archbishop's “effort to support immigration reform has been undertaken in the face of opposition from some conservative Catholics.”
Winters also wrote that Rutten's contrast of Archbishop Gomez' book with Pope Francis' homily at Lampedusa on July 8 was “especially ironic, and especially egregious.”
While speaking to CNA, Winters also pointed out that in a conference call April 22, Archbishop Gomez had said the Senate's immigration reform bill “leaves too many persons behind” in the path to citizenship – hardly a critique of the bill coming from the right of the political aisle.
On a similar note, the Los Angeles-based author and historian Charles Coulombe said that the archbishop's teaching on immigration cannot be attributed to political concerns stemming from either the right or the left.
“Rutten shows a complete misunderstanding of the issue … Archbishop Gomez writes as a pastor of souls,” the author of “The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI” told CNA July 15.
Coulombe said it's easy for those on the left – and the right – “to make quick comments, saying it's all political: 'the archbishop's pandering to the left, 'the archbishop's pandering to the right.'”
“No,” Coulombe responded, “actually the archbishop is trying to pander to God. That's who he's trying to pander to. I know you're not allowed to bring God into the conversation, but you can't understand the archbishop unless you do.”
The portrayal of the archbishop, with its “snide, snarky tone,” Coulombe said, betrays the fact that Rutten's column is “meant to poison the well,” discrediting all that Archbishop Gomez writes before anyone actually reads his book.
“The truth of the matter is that Archbishop Gomez is far from being either a right-wing fanatic, as Mr. Rutten would like to paint him, nor in favor of unlimited immigration, as those on the 'right' of this issue try to portray him.”
Coulombe called the archbishop “a highly educated man, and a pastor of souls, whose first interest is the salvation of the souls of the people who come through his archdiocese.”
Rutten claimed that Archbishop Gomez comes from the political right on immigration because he “expresses understanding for the view that undocumented migrants simply are lawbreakers,” including a quote from “Immigration and the Next America”'s first chapter.
Yet shortly after the text provided by Rutten, the archbishop noted that “illegal immigration is no ordinary crime.” He also urges that we stop deporting those people “whose only crime is that they are here without the proper papers.”
Archbishop Gomez, Coulombe explained, “has obviously tried” to make the issue understandable to those against immigration reform, “as opposed to simply condemning them.”
Rutten also faulted the archbishop for his criticism of secularization and – risibly – his supposed opposition to multiculturalism.
Archbishop Gomez' book is actually heartily in favor of welcoming people of many cultures to America, and tries to correct the perception that the country was formed solely by white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
He writes in several parts that America is meant to “include and unite” and that citizenship is open to people of all “economic and racial categories,” in this country “where men and women from every race, creed, and national background” are called to live in equality.
Coulombe suggested that the mischaracterization of Archbishop Gomez' stance falls in a pattern of Rutten's. According to an Aug. 2011 report at The Wrap, Rutten was taken off the book review section of the Los Angeles Times for making factual errors.
While the archbishop and Rutten are both advocates of immigration reform, Coulombe said that in Rutten's eyes, Archbishop Gomez “agrees with him for the wrong reasons. His positions are not held for political reasons, and these people would like to transform everything into politics.”
Coulombe reflected on the immigration reform debate, saying that the archbishop's teaching on immigration is misunderstood, and often poorly received, because American Catholics “are so poorly catechized.”
“As a result, it's very, very difficult to get across a relatively small section of the Church's teaching, when the vast majority of us don't know anything about most of it.”
“In default of a strong catechetical basis in Catholic teaching, people fall back on whatever politics of right or left appeal to them, and that's an issue that hasn't been addressed,” Coulombe concluded.