In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying that the bishops' stance on issues including life, healthcare and immigration reform "is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day."
"It is both possible and morally necessary to secure the border in a manner which provides security and a humane immigration policy," the statement said. "For anyone to suggest that it is out of sordid motives of statistics or financial gain is outrageous and insulting."
Cardinal Dolan also responded to the interview, calling Bannon's insinuation that the bishops' teaching is based on an economic incentive "preposterous."
"That's insulting and that's just so ridiculous that it doesn't merit a comment," the cardinal said. Both Dolan's remarks and the statement from the bishops' conference referenced long-standing Church teachings highlighting the Christian duty to care for one's neighbors, as well as to protect the vulnerable within a society.
Miller explained that while there is an element of truth in Bannon's assertion, in that the statements of bishops' conferences "don't share in the magisterium," or the official authoritative teaching of the Church, that does not mean the bishops' statements or positions on policy should be disregarded. The lack of official magisterial weight of a statement like the bishops' Sept. 5 comments in defense of DACA "doesn't mean it doesn't require significant, significant deference."
Miller said it would be "rash" to disregard the guidance of the bishops, and that often, when a bishop comments or signs a statement, it's generally "a fairly clear application" of teachings the Church does hold.
The professor also discussed the issue of prudential judgement, and that Catholics are able to disagree on matters of prudence in how a situation is handled or implemented. Dr. Miller acknowledged that in situations like immigration, there is a prudential component in determining how best the Church's teachings should be applied. Yet, he continued, the bishops' statements and judgement still require deference. The prudential character of subjects the bishops might talk about, Miller stressed, "doesn't mean that you can feel free to ignore them and they're like some guy next door."
Miller also pushed back against the distinction Bannon made between matters of prudence and matters of "dogma." He said that while Catholics can, in good faith, disagree on matters of practicality and approach, the bishops' moral voice still has relevance to politics.
"Although there's this difference between basic moral principle and prudential judgement about how to apply it in sometimes complex cases, I don't think that that distinction is as neat as people sometimes think it is in at least some cases." Miller explained that the Church has long spoken on the moral duties of nations, and their obligation to serve the common good. While states can do some things in the name of "sovereignty," he continued, they must act in the interest of the common good – particularly with an eye towards the most vulnerable.
Joseph Capizzi, professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and executive director of the school's Institute for Human Ecology, told CNA that while there may not be a definitive, set doctrine on immigration itself, there is a consistent teaching within the Church "on principles that pertain to immigration." He pointed to scriptures and to traditions reaching back to the earliest centuries of the Church that highlight the Church's concern for "the poor, the outcast, refugees, orphans – the physically vulnerable."
"Those are the first people who get our attention. We're supposed to care for them." Capizzi also pointed to the Church's tradition of care for one's neighbor and those within one's community. The care for individuals of that community must be promoted in concert with the common good of the community and its people, he explained.
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The issue of immigration is not one that is new for the Church in the United States, Capizzi said. "When many of our parents and grandparents came into this country, they faced very similar antagonisms," and many of the same arguments used against immigration today were used in previous decades and centuries, he noted.
"The Catholic bishops are only articulating the same defense of good Catholic people that was articulated on behalf of their parents and their grandparents, and in some cases, themselves, over the course of the history of this country."
The positive contribution of Catholic immigrants and immigrants in general to the Church and to the United States should outweigh the concerns raised by Bannon's "crass" and "unprovable" statements, as well as those of a decline of Christianity in the United States and the West, Capizzi said.
"There's no question the Catholic Church benefits from the presence of hard-working, faithful young Catholic men and women who are coming into this country seeking better lives for themselves and their children."