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Pelosi Urges Catholic Church to Play 'Major Role' in Immigration Overhaul

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 4, 2010. (AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday urged Catholic leaders to "instruct" their parishioners to support immigration reforms, saying clerics should "play a very major role" in supporting Democratic policies.

"The cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops that come to me and say, 'We want you to pass immigration reform,' and I said, 'I want you to speak about it from the pulpit. I want you to instruct your' -- whatever the communication is," said Pelosi, who is Catholic, speaking at the Nation's Catholic Community conference sponsored by Trinity Washington University and the National Catholic Reporter.

"The people, some (who) oppose immigration reform, are sitting in those pews, and you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the gospels," she said.

While it's not unusual for clergy to speak about politics from the pulpit, it is uncommon for a lawmaker to openly encourage them to preach a specific policy.

Asked for clarification, a Pelosi spokesman issued the statement: "From health care to energy security to immigration reform, the speaker believes the faith community has played and will continue to play a critical role in our national debate."

Pelosi said the church "has an important role to play" in teaching about dignity and respect, and "as a practical matter" it's not possible to tell 12 million illegal immigrants to "go back to wherever you came from or go to jail." 

After Arizona passed a controversial immigration law, with Gov. Jan Brewer saying she was forced to act because Congress hasn't, Washington has been at a loss on how to proceed on new federal policies that could put millions of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship. Lawmakers on both sides admit that passing a bill during this election year is highly unlikely.

The Arizona law, which is slated to take effect July 29, makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It directs police to question people about their immigration status when they may be in the country illegally and when they already are the subject of police contact.

In other remarks at the Catholic briefing, Pelosi said she prays for her colleagues all the time, Democrats and Republicans alike.

"It's a beautiful thing to listen to different points of view. From a religious perspective we come from a similar Catholic background but sometimes we have to come to a different conclusion about how we translate that into public policy," she said.