immigration-A-12-15-11A man waves a U.S. flag during an immigration rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington Oct. 13, 2009. The Wisconsin Catholic bishops took up the call for immigration reform in a pastoral letter issued Dec. 12. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)ST. FRANCIS – The state’s Catholic bishops are asking for a commitment from the Catholic community – a commitment to pass immigration reform legislation. In a pastoral letter issued Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, the bishops instructed: “Let us then commit ourselves to helping resolve this pressing immigration crisis.”

In the 956-word statement, signed by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, Milwaukee; Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Madison; Bishop David L. Ricken, Green Bay; Bishop Peter F. Christensen, Superior; and Bishop William P. Callahan, La Crosse, the bishops, citing Mt 25:35, noted, “From the prophets to recent papal teaching, the church has had a consistent message: welcome the stranger.”

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the bishops noted, instructs wealthy nations to “welcome foreigners who are searching for a better life.” The bishops added that the Catechism “recognizes the right of governments to regulate immigration for the sake of the common good.”

“This duty and this right are not incompatible,” the bishops wrote. “It is possible to respect both.”

The bishops said that they share the concern of “many” Americans who are “troubled” by the number of immigrants who reside in the U.S. illegally.

“As Americans, however, we have to acknowledge that some of our foreign and domestic policies and practices have contributed to the illegal entry of immigrants,” they wrote, adding that the U.S. “is a magnet for immigrants because there is work here and because of the international disparity in wages.”

The bishops asked Catholics to help resolve the crisis by doing the following:

  • Pray for immigrants, lawmakers, and for one another as we address this challenge.
  • Read the accompanying questions and answers resource and visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Justice for Immigrants website,, for additional resources.
  • Educate fellow citizens and legislators about the need for comprehensive immigration reform – a reform that is not a blanket amnesty, but rather a path to citizenship that includes restitution where it is owed.
  • Reject state and federal legislation that unfairly profiles or discriminates against immigrants.

    Wisconsin bishop’s letter and Q-and-A on immigration

    In English:

    In Spanish:

  • Reach out to immigrants and begin building communities of hope.

Need for ‘prudential judgment’

In a Dec. 9 interview with your Catholic Herald, Archbishop Listecki said, “There’s a key word that needs to be used at this time – prudential judgment. At this time it’s lost when the issue is trying to be painted in such a black and white perspective that prudential judgment is sometimes lost.”

In the question and answer guide that accompanies the letter, the bishops include a five-point plan for addressing the problem of undocumented immigrants for which they believe “the federal government must undertake a comprehensive overhaul of our current immigration system”:

  • increase number of visas available for family reunification;
  • provide humane enforcement of immigration laws, including respecting the human and legal rights of undocumented immigrants;
  • establish a temporary worker program that protects both undocumented immigrants and native-born workers;
  • need for a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants who have demonstrated good character, paid a fine, and learned English;
  • called for greater international efforts designed to address root causes of migration in order to create conditions in which people do not have to leave their homes out of necessity.

Applying Catholic principles

The archbishop answered an often-heard concern that the church is getting involved in politics when they write about immigration reform.

“We’re not getting involved in politics. We’re getting involved in the social principles of the church which are mandated for all of us by the Gospel,” Archbishop Listecki said. “It’s not politics; I’m certainly not advocating any one particular type of position. Any position that is advocated is arguable. As Christians we have an obligation to care for one another, to care for the stranger among us, and to make sure that person isn’t forgotten.”

For the archbishop, immigration reform is a matter of principle – Catholic principle.

“We wanted to bring a sense of the spiritual aspect to the question,” Archbishop Listecki said of the bishops’ decision to write the pastoral letter. “It gets so caught up in the divisiveness of political determinations of how to enact certain things that Catholic principles are sometimes lost, and it’s the Catholic principles that you have to keep always before you even though we may disagree on the manner in which they might be implemented. But it always has to be the Catholic principles that are held before you.”

The archbishop said those principles “call us to reach out those people who are in need.”

“We should always remember that they are Catholic and they will be coming to our churches and institutions to try to secure some kind of semblance of connectedness and solidarity,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Remember also that this group, particularly the Hispanic immigrants, has contributed to our society for a long time – sometimes decades. Immigration needs to be addressed with a semblance of reason about what we do as we go forward rather than have the emotions overtake us on one side of the issue or the other.”

‘Avoid extremes’

The archbishop offered a caution to congregations during what he termed “this time of divisiveness, especially concerning this issue.”

“Avoid the extremes. If you’re caught in the extreme position, there’s no movement; you’re locked in that thought, whereas this is an issue where we really have to take a look at a lot of factors helping to move us to reasonable solutions at this time,” Archbishop Listecki said. “They may not be perfect solutions, but they’ll be reasonable solutions that will help to satisfy the Catholic principles.”

The nation’s Hispanic and Latino bishops also released a letter Dec. 12 simultaneously in the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Antonio, addressed to their “immigrant brothers and sisters” – “those of you who lack proper authorization to live and work in our country to know you are not forgotten.”