Pope Francis I will be in the United States September 22-27 and will address a joint meeting of Congress on the 24th -- an historical first. All indications are that immigration issues will be at the forefront during his visit. It has been reported that the Pope will even bless a group of illegal aliens while he is in New York City. Recently, The Holy Father has spoken at length about the "refugee crisis" in Europe. It will be interesting to see how he frames the illegal immigration problem in the United States since, by any objective standard, only a tiny fraction of illegal aliens here now are legitimate refugees.
Even for many non-Catholics, the Pope's words carry great weight. Pope Francis has received a lot of positive coverage in the U.S. media, helped no doubt by his perceived position on U.S. immigration policy, though many reporters and commentators hear what they want to hear from this Pope. And, it is widely acknowledged by Vatican observers that Pope Francis has not always spoken with clarity when addressing contentious political issues.
Pope Francis will no doubt reiterate the need for love and charity, and the responsibility of wealthier nations to help the poor around the world. Whatever he says about immigration, those pushing for blanket amnesty and increases in legal immigration will take his words as an explicit endorsement of specific legislation, like the Gang of Eight bill that failed to pass Congress in 2013. But any such stance would be unprecedented by a modern Pope.
There are some issues on which the Catholic Church gives clear-cut guidance to voters, such as abortion and euthanasia. Immigration policy is a much more complex issue, and the Vatican has always been careful when addressing it. When Pope Francis talks about immigration over the next couple of weeks, it is important to note that he is speaking as a religious leader, a head of state, and also as a representative of a religious institution that over the course of two thousand years has developed positions on every aspect of social and economic life. He will not be speaking ex cathedra (with the full authority of Church teaching behind him), and any opinion he offers on the politics of immigration reform, while it should be given serious consideration by all Americans, is not the formal position of the Church.
If Pope Francis were to give an official position on behalf of the Church regarding the specifics of immigration policy (we will leave the question of infallibility for others to debate), he would have to deal with existing Church doctrine regarding national sovereignty, lawful obedience, protection of private property, concern for the common good, the admonition against wage theft, and the principle of subsidiarity.
There will be much said by the commentariat about what Pope Francis' remarks during his time here mean for the politics of immigration reform; and much of that analysis will be ill-informed. All Americans should give careful consideration to the Pope's words. And everyone should use their own prudence when weighing what the Pope actually said about immigration, not what he is reported to have said.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Oct 1st 2015 @ 2:45pm EDT