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


Bishop addresses current issues:
Immigration and same-sex marriage

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

How quickly July has flown by! I hope you are enjoying these weeks of summer. As our fields and gardens flourish with the bounty of the earth, may we be reminded that all we have is God’s most generous gift. We are grateful, and so we show that gratitude to others with deeper fidelity.

Gratitude and hospitality go hand in hand. Think first of our Lord’s hospitality to us: “Though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.” The Son of God “emptied Himself” of His divine glory in order to become fully human, the Son of Man born of the Virgin Mary. He assumed our human nature, joining it to His own divine nature. “Remaining what He was, He became what He was not.” He received our weakness as a gift, when we had no other gift to offer our Lord and Creator. And He transformed our weakness into strength, the strength of our living faith, through His Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection. This week I would like to share with you more of my thoughts on two important issues.


Our hospitality to others, motivated by gratitude for God’s generosity, must be of the same kind. We must receive the weakness of others as a gift. In this way, their weakness can be redeemed by God’s love, transformed into a strength that serves themselves and still others.

This Christ-like hospitality must shape our views, as Catholics, of the issue of immigration reform. We have an obligation in love to receive others’ weakness as a divine gift – an obligation which must come before any considerations of legal status.

This means, first of all, that we must recognize and protect their human dignity. We must do so in our own actions and words, and also in the laws we advocate and support. Laws which protect human dignity must replace current laws which fail to do so. In the context of immigration reform, this means laws which provide adequate avenues of legal immigration. Our economy demands some 300,000 new immigrant workers each year, yet we only provide 5,000 permanent worker visas. This imbalance is unjust in itself, and creates a demand for human smuggling, which violates human dignity and costs human lives. Families, also, have a right to remain together, which our laws must respect.

Christ-like hospitality means, second, that illegal immigrants must not remain illegal. Some form of legalization must be part of transforming their weakness into a strength that serves us all. This does not imply amnesty, as if we are rewarding them for having broken the law. A just restitution for having broken the law to enter this country is appropriate – for example, a fine, payment of any taxes owed, and gaining a functional fluency in our public language and our laws and customs.

Finally, Christ-like hospitality means that we must reform our domestic and foreign policies. Abortion and a contraceptive mentality aggravate the immigration issue, both by increasing demand for more workers, and by creating or justifying an attitude of treating people as objects. Without abortion and contraception, we would have a far more robust economy today, which would need fewer immigrant workers, and ironically be able, both culturally and financially, to welcome far more of them without strain. Abortion abroad damages human dignity and other nations’ economies the same way, increasing demand for them to come here, especially among the very poor.

These four goals – namely, to protect human dignity and families, to provide adequate avenues of legal immigration, to offer just avenues of legalization for those already here, and to reform domestic and foreign policy to reduce demand for immigration – are the goals for comprehensive immigration reform articulated by my brother bishops, especially Bishop John Wester, chair of the Bishop’s Committee on Immigration, and Cardinal George, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are commonsensical goals, which rest solidly on principles of faith and justice.


Last week, a judge of the District Court of Northern California struck down Proposition 8, the 2008 amendment to California’s constitution protecting traditional marriage. I read as much of his decision as I could stomach. It was biased from beginning to end, and showed many severe flaws. One can only be very disappointed that this sort of ideological, self-justifying activism can pass for “the rule of law.”

One of the things I was most disappointed in was that the judge deliberately selected, from among several definitions of marriage offered by “expert witnesses,” a definition, not only secular in outlook, but actually incompatible with the Church’s definition. We know that marriage is a sacrament. Christ “raised to the dignity of a sacrament” the universal human wisdom of life-long, exclusive, heterosexual commitment as “the best” form of marriage. We know also that the state does not recognize the sacramentality of marriage as such. The state’s definition of marriage will be “secular” in this sense. The four defining aspects of marriage we know to be rooted in divine will and Christ’s grace – namely, unity, permanence, fecundity, and exclusivity – the state may describe in terms of natural law, custom, and the common good. Traditional legal language about the “state’s interest in promoting marriage” does just that. Protecting these four goods is – or at least used to be – precisely why the state is interested in marriage.

When, however, the state begins to define marriage, not only differently than, but even contrary to these four goods, other goals will take their place. Implicitly, this already happened with the wide-spread acceptance of civil marriage and divorce. “No-fault” divorce, contraception, and the scourge of pornography have further eroded the four goods of marriage, even in secular terms. In this decision, only the good of unity is now explicitly upheld. Permanence and fecundity are explicitly excluded, and exclusivity is only implied as a good. Still more damaging, the good of unity is conceived of only in emotional terms. It is not the union of two souls becoming “one flesh,” or one legal entity, in secular terms. It is a purely emotional union, rooted only in the satisfaction of appetite.

The “goods” this definition of marriage promotes are not Christian goods. Frankly, the satisfaction of appetite cannot be a basis for marriage even in traditional terms. When we promote or condone or even tolerate this debased vision of marriage, either for civil marriage or for so-called same-sex marriage, we are accepting the idea that one person can licitly use another for the satisfaction of appetite; that one can join without commitment; that one can take, and not give. In other words, we are teaching that virtues like commitment, stability, sacrifice, and generosity are not necessary. And this is obviously not compatible with the common good.

Please pray for me, so that I may serve you as well as Christ demands. Pray for all our bishops and priests, and for all those of good will who struggle to uphold in their lives Christ’s grace, hospitality to human weakness, and redemptive goodness. The way of the Cross is not easy, but our example matters to many, and our rewards for faithfully following our Lord Jesus Christ are very great. May He bless you all most abundantly with every spiritual and material grace, and most especially with the gift of faith.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City


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