The Catholic Church Gets Political on Illegal Immigration

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 7, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight. As we reported last week, Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles says he will instruct his priests not to obey a tough new proposed law on illegal immigration already passed in the House. So how is Mahoney playing on Capitol Hill?

Joining us now from Washington, Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a Catholic, James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The congressman is a Protestant, both men instrumental in getting this tough new anti-illegal immigrant, I would say. You really want to hold these people accountable.

So Congressman King, I mean as a Catholic, when you heard Mahoney and then of course The New York Times egging him on saying look, I'm going to tell my priests in the largest diocese in the country not to obey this law, how did you react?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, first of all, I was very offended. I was very disappointed in Cardinal Mahoney and the Catholic Church has enough problems without Cardinal Mahoney adding to it. And Bill, he's distorting the law. Nothing in this bill is going to lock up food or water to a starving immigrant. It's aimed at alien smuggling gangs. I think they're creating this whole smoke screen because they don't want to admit they're for stopping illegal immigration.

O'REILLY: Why would Cardinal Mahoney not want to stop — not want the laws of the land to be obeyed? He's a law-abiding citizen.

KING: All I can think of, Bill, is this has become the political correct tune. The Catholic Church — too many people in the Catholic Church have signed onto this. It's fashionable. I find it, Bill, right here in this Nashville County, the diocese of Rockwell Center, nuns and priests putting out in the parish bulletins that I want to put them in jail because they're going to drive starving immigrants to get a sandwich.

O'REILLY: Do you think it's left-wing politics they're embracing here? Is that what it's about?

KING: I think it's the U.S. version of the politics of liberation. Yes, I do. I think it's become politically correct within the Catholic Church to take these very liberal positions.

O'REILLY: Congressman Sensenbrenner, on Long Island with Congressman King, they have sanctuary churches where they put basement — illegals in basements, and they feed them and they shelter them and they help them to get jobs and evade authorities. And I think that's what this immigration bill would impact vis-à-vis the Catholic Church, that priests who did that, who allowed that, they would be held accountable, would they not?

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: Yes, they would, but they would be held accountable under the existing law, as well. The way we help illegal immigrants is stopping illegal immigration. And the way we help stop illegal immigration is stop alien smuggling.

And what this bill does is makes a minor change in the definition of who is criminally responsible for aiding and abetting the alien smuggling. Now, the current law, Bill, which has been on the books for decades, says that it's a crime to encourage or induce or aid and abet illegal aliens.

What the King-Sensenbrenner bill does is adds the words "assists" and "directs" to plug gaps in the current law.

O'REILLY: OK, but look, here's the crux of the matter. We know there are some sympathetic — and not just Catholics, religious people all over the country that do help illegals evade authority. So we know that. It happens. I know it, and everybody knows it.

But Cardinal Mahoney gets up there and he tells his congregation on Ash Wednesday, "I'm not going to tell my priests before they give communion to somebody to ask to see their immigration papers." That's how he framed it. Do you think that's an honest framing of it, sir?

SENSENBRENNER: No, it isn't. It's ridiculous. And the thing is unless we get a hand on illegal immigration, we're going to turn illegal immigrants who can't get papers or Social Security cards into a permanent underclass in our society, and that's not good. And I don't think it's Christian either.

O'REILLY: I know — Congressman King, you are now — you are now setting up a situation where you will have civil disobedience, because I don't think any cardinal is going to back off this. Can you see priests and even Cardinal Mahoney himself being arrested?

KING: No, I don't, Bill. This bill — law as Jim Sensenbrenner said, has basically been on the books for almost 50 years. We added several new words. No priest or nun has been prosecuted under it. This is aimed at alien smuggling gangs who are moving illegal immigrants around the country.

O'REILLY: So what if you found somebody — I could name the churches on Long Island if you wanted me.

KING: So could I. One of them is in your old neighborhood.

O'REILLY: You bet it is. And I know. And so are you going to tell me these people will still get a pass if this goes into law?

KING: As a practical matter, yes, Bill. They're not the ones who are being targeted. We're targeting the alien smuggling gangs. And you know, these priests and nuns know it. I don't think it's right for them to be encouraging illegal immigration, but...

O'REILLY: You're not going to go after them even if they do break the law?

KING: Because, Bill, that's not the way the law has been interpreted for 50 years. There are more important people to go after here, and that's the alien smuggling gangs.

O'REILLY: I got it. I'm not going to name the church, but I was an altar boy there.

KING: You and I know it.

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