America Comment

‘Catholics for Dreamers’: a painful exercise in 1960s nostalgia

Nuns protest outside the US Capitol building (Getty Images)

This week’s “Catholics for Dreamers” rally in Washington DC was excruciatingly painful to watch.

Granted, I watched Tuesday’s events unfold from my smartphone on a train from New York to Boston. But, judging by the reports, there were many grey heads. Don’t get me wrong: seniors have as much a right to protest as millennials. But the whole thing seems to have turned into an exercise in baby-boomer nostalgia.

Take Fr Thomas Reese’s column, “Tomorrow I Plan to Get Arrested”. (It has since been updated to reflect the fact that he was, indeed, arrested.) In it, he wrote:

This will be my first time getting arrested. Many of my Jesuit colleagues were arrested during the 1960s and ’70s when demonstrations about Vietnam, civil rights and farmworkers were common. As part of these demonstrations, peaceful civil disobedience was not uncommon.

There’s more than a whiff of regret at having missed the Golden Age of progressive rabble-rousing.

Fr Reese is obviously inviting comparisons to the brave men and women who were beaten, imprisoned, and killed in the fight for African-American equality. But is the comparison apt? He and the 30 to 40 others who were arrested knew there would be no real negative repercussions. Indeed, they were all released by 4pm.

That is par for the course with DC protests, as any of my fellow George Washington University alumni can attest. There’s no police brutality, and it doesn’t hurt your career prospects – especially if you’re a Jesuit priest.

Really, it’s a badge of honour: proof that you “stuck it to the man”. And you can earn it with plenty of time left to make your dinner reservation in Georgetown.

To make matters even more cringe-worthy, there was this tweet by fellow Jesuit Fr James Martin:

Fr [Reese] arrested in US Senate during protest on behalf of Dreamers. On the Mount of Beatitudes today in the Holy Land we read out Jesus’s words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sale [sic] of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So blessed is he!

As the television commentator Fr Jonathan Morris pointed out, “when Christians are dying for the faith around the world, I don’t think we should use the word ‘persecution’ so lightly”.

But what really makes this all so ridiculous is that there is absolutely no chance that the Dreamers will be deported. That would be political suicide. Almost 90 per cent of Americans support amnesty, including 80 per cent of Republicans. The only reason they have not been granted amnesty already is that President Trump and his allies are demanding concessions from Democrats before they pass any legislation. (The big one is Trump’s wall along the southern border.)

Is it fair for Republicans to “play politics” with the fate of these Dreamers? Maybe not. But they are no more guilty than the Democrats, who could simply sign off on the wall if amnesty were such a grave moral issue.

And yet this was a purely anti-GOP rally. According to reports, Fr Reese told the crowd that House Speaker Paul Ryan ought to study the conversion of Paul the Apostle. When Ryan passed the crowd, they chanted: “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute me?”

Bear in mind that St Paul admitted to “zealously” and “violently” persecuting the Church before his conversion. Why sling patently inaccurate ad hominems at the man whose mind you are supposed to be changing?

I’m happy to go on the record as supporting amnesty for Dreamers. And that’s why the rally irked me. The “Catholics for Dreamers” seemed more intent on play-acting, casting themselves as 1960s radicals, than changing hearts and minds. That’s bad for immigration reform, and it’s not a good look for the Church.