PO BOX 5079 (51102)
SIOUX CITY, IA (51105)


Bishop addresses social and faith issues

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We begin this new year of grace 2010 with profound gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ for the innumerable blessings poured out so generously upon us. I have just returned from my annual retreat with my fellow bishops from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas, renewed in my humble gratitude for the gift of being your servant and shepherd, renewed in my conviction in the power of prayer and the strength of your faith in Christ, and renewed in my commitment to serve you and Christ well, by building up our unity in His holy Church. Let us together pray, with firm intention fearlessly and unceasingly to proclaim the love of Christ, that He will daily lead us “into the way of peace” of His Kingdom.

Peace, which yields justice, is founded on truth – the truth, namely, that every single human person is created by God, as a pure gift of most generous Love, bearing the “image and likeness” of God. Every person is created with this infinite worth, this dignity, from the moment of conception. God gives us this unparalleled gift in creating each person; but then outdoes His own generosity in giving us, in addition, the gift of His own Son, Jesus Christ. In His death, we are freed from sin, and made, “not slaves, but heirs with Christ.” Both by nature, in our being made human, and by the sacramental grace of baptism, in our being made Christ’s, we are God’s beloved children.


If this truth is denied, and we insist on treating each other as objects without intrinsic worth, we will have neither peace nor justice in our land. The greatest, though certainly not the only, denial of this truth in our country and culture today is abortion. Our elected politicians know this; why else would they have promised so often and so forcefully that health care reform – to say nothing of its many other pitfalls – would not expand the practice of abortion, nor fund it with our tax dollars? Yet, despite these promises, a travesty of a health care bill was passed by the Senate, providing for government funding of abortion. Fifteen "Catholic" Senators voted both against the Nelson amendment to preserve the abortion funding status quo, and then for the final abortion-supporting bill. I urge each of you to continue to tell our elected officials how we feel about excluding abortion funding in any bill reforming health care. We cannot give up on this important issue.


Congress is soon expected to turn its attention to the equally difficult issue of immigration reform. When Jesus recounted the parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught that it matters greatly who we recognize, and therefore respect, as neighbor. This parable applies to immigration today, because how we treat those who come here hoping to share our liberties affects everyone’s God-given personal dignity. Immigration policy cannot support the common good without respecting human dignity. We must hold ourselves to the high standard of loving neighbor which Christ’s teaching demands.


To do so as a nation, we must define the tangible personal rights and duties to be protected and supported by just laws. In this context, the most basic is the right to work. This right to work applies, first of all, to the home region or nation of every worker, who, in justice, should be able to find just and adequate employment without having to relocate a family. We recognized this right implicitly in the creation of North American Free Trade Agreement. But the right to work implies also the right to go to where work is offered, even to migrate to another country, if circumstances require. Our current immigration laws unnecessarily restrict the flow of labor within the territories of our freedom to trade.


A second issue concerns the immigration of families of workers. The Church recognizes the positive contributions to society, not only to the economy, that immigrants make. Family is among those contributions, and the human dignity of immigrating married couples includes the right to remain together as a family. Policies which require decade-long delays before one spouse can join a legally-immigrated spouse in the new country are grievously unjust. Enforcement policies, such as with the 2008 Postville raid, which separate spouses from each other, and parents from children, are likewise unjust.

Their human dignity also requires that immigrants always be accorded their natural human rights: an ordinary level of freedom of movement and association, freedom of conscience, preservation of language and culture, access to goods and services, especially of education and preventative and emergency health care, and so forth. By the same token, immigrants are also held to observe their natural duties: for example, to abide by just laws, to respect the culture and traditions of their host country, and to contribute to the common good. When both citizens and immigrants are held to the same standard of rights and duties, a much greater degree of tangible peace and justice results.


Furthermore, the dignity of the human person ultimately requires that civil authorities meet their duty to secure their territorial borders, a duty with exists only in reference to the common good. This implies that states should regulate the movement of people across borders, permitting a more generous movement of people, consistent with preventing criminal or terrorist activity, and with eliminating human trafficking and the unnecessary deaths of migrants. Just regulation must support, on both sides of a border, the “progress of peoples” on which, in the long run, historical peace and justice rest.


Finally, the Church calls the citizens of the host country, and especially the faithful, to the virtue of hospitality. The universality of the Church is a providential means of welcoming and integrating Catholic immigrants into the society they seek to join. The social arms of the Church, cooperating with other groups and denominations, can likewise be useful in fostering welcome and integration for immigrants of all background. An essential aspect of hospitality is to invite newcomers to step or grow into roles of leadership and service in their new community.


In keeping with these fundamental principles, the Church supports reasonable and just immigration reform. The United States Catholic Bishops, together with the bishops of Mexico, developed a thorough description of what that means in their 2003 letter, “Strangers no Longer.” In particular, at this moment, the Church calls for three policy goals. First, the Church calls for immigration reform which better respects the unity of families, both in initial immigration and in enforcement practices. Second, the Church urges the development of more humane ways to enforce the rule of law, in keeping with the dignity of the human person. Third, the Church hopes that some manner of providing for an eventual citizenship or legal residency can be conceived, not without some suitable restitution for having entered the country illegally. The Church does not support either a uniform deportation policy, or an amnesty without just recompense – that is, a positive restitution, rather than mere punishment for having violated the law.


In support of these goals, I ask all the faithful of our Diocese, who enjoy so thoroughly the benefits of our American liberty, to send a postcard, available in your parish on the last two Sundays in January, to each of your three elected Congressional representatives in the House and Senate. These postcards would inform your representatives of your support for these three important goals of upholding family unity, humane enforcement, and path to legalization. These three goals are fully consistent with core Catholic moral principles. They rest firmly on the fundamental truth of human dignity, the basis of all Catholic social teaching. The vision the Church is calling for cannot be taken as a “partisan” position, but rather would foster peace and justice in Christ for all.

Most especially, I urge you to pray for our government officials. Being pressured from so many different directions to favor special interests, they can all too easily fail to pursue the common good, or to foster human dignity and respect for rights and duties. More peaceful and just governance arises from us, the people, and from how we live and pray. May our Lord Jesus Christ be very merciful toward our failings, and strengthen us with His abundant grace.


This week we are reminded to pray in a special way for those among us who are called to discern a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or consecrated life. Please pray that all our young people be open to this possibility in their lives. Pray too for our fine group of seminarians. One day, I hope to have the privilege of ordaining them to the priesthood for service in our Diocese. Prayer is the most important gift we can give to those who might be called. Please continue to pray also for me, and for all our priests, in this Year for Priests, just as I pray for all of you. May we be abundantly blessed in this new year, 2010.

Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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