EDITORIAL | Catholics are compelled to follow bishops’ moral lead

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Led by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Catholic bishops in the United States condemned the separation of children from their families at the U.S./Mexico border as the government implements the administration's zero-tolerance policy in immigration.

Cardinal DiNardo called the practice, simply, "immoral." He's the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the leader of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson joined the chorus of dissent on June 19, calling the "forcible" separation "inhumane" and "morally unacceptable."

"This current tactic being used against our immigrant families is contrary to our Christian principle of respect for the inherent dignity of people and the social responsibility to work for the common good," he stated. "As a people of faith, we remain committed to our Gospel values that speak of compassion and solidarity" (Matthew 25:31-46).

Archbishop Carlson, Cardinal DiNardo and brother bishops have expressed Catholic teaching in no uncertain terms: Separating children from their parents is wrong and must stop.

Catholics should stand up and take notice, not only of the bishops' words in this case but in all areas which pertain to Catholic teaching. The bishops' words — indeed, the bishops themselves — have clout. Appointed by the pope himself, they have the ecclesiastic authority and responsibly to speak for the Catholic Church and to offer guidance to their flocks as necessary.

As the Code of Canon Law states in Can. 212 No. 1: "Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church."

Ecclesiastic authority isn't just a quaint tradition. It's a long-standing practice.

"See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, ... as being the institution of God," St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Smyrnaeans in 107 AD while being marched to Rome for martyrdom. "He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God."

Further, he wrote to Polycarp, "Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you."

And to the Ephesians, "[I]f I in this brief space of time have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature — how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father ..."

So, there you have it.

Whether it's the injustice of forcibly separating children from their parents in immigration policy or forcibly separating human life from human wombs in abortion, bishops have the ecclesiastic authority and responsibility to speak in terms of right and wrong. And we lay Catholics have the moral obligation and responsibility to respond accordingly with the bishops' expression of Catholic teaching. 

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