It seems that the Feds are finally going after the self proclaimed 'toughest sheriff' in America, Maricopa County Arizona's Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe has made quite the name for himself for his immigrations sweeps, tent cities, chain gangs, and other novel ideas about criminal investigation and enforcement. Oh yea, and using his extensive deputy force to investigate and intimidate oppositional politicians, government employees, and journalists. I guess he's over done the latter and that has resulted in the convening of a Federal Grand Jury.
Sheriff Joe has generated tons of controversy in his four terms as sheriff. He has incurred the wrath of international human rights groups, immigration reform advocates, state and local community groups, and engendered and lost quite the number of law suits brought by folks who didn't enjoy his novel concepts of incarceration. Yet in spite of all of this, he is still one of the most popular elected officials in Arizona--especially since he began his infamous sweeps for illegal aliens. I'm sure part of his popularity has to do with the fact he only goes after the illegal alien part of our immigration problem and not the employer part.
Not surprisingly he is also under federal scrutiny for racial profiling and has had his ability to conduct immigration sweeps curtailed by the Department of Justice. Racial profiling is an issue which effects a lot of legal American citizens in the Southwest. Families of Hispanic and Indigenous origin have been American citizens for hundreds of years and being cited in one of Sheriff Joe's 'sweeps' --mostly for vehicle violations--is unappreciated. I imagine it is very irritating to observe that the car with the cracked windshield being driven by a white person is not stopped while yours is.
A person can spend hours reading about Sheriff Joe and one thing you can't help but notice in the reading is that while religious leaders of other denominations have spoken out against some of Joe's behavior precisely because it is inhumane and racist, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J Olmstead has uttered not one peep. His official spokespeople say he is working quietly behind the scenes.
I find this quite interesting from a bishop who had no qualms about castigating Fr. Jenkins for inviting President Obama to speak at Notre Dame, or denying communion for ex Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano, or sending 50,000 dollars of Diocesan money to Bishop Malone of Maine to interfere in Maine's political battle over gay marriage. For some reason being vociferous and upfront on these issues is his duty, while being silent on Sheriff Joe and his predations on the Bishop's own Hispanic flock demands 'silently' working behind the scenes.
Could this difference possibly indicate that in the Diocese of Arizona there are two distinct approaches for the flock? A very vocal one for progressive Catholics who support positions which violate Catholic sexual morality and a very silent one for conservative Catholics whose policies violate Catholic social justice positions? Or are there two positions based on something else? Maybe there are two distinct Catholic churches in Arizona in that wealthy conservative white Catholics get one message, and poor Native and Hispanic Catholics get another message?
The silence of Bishop Olmstead bothers me for what it actually says about the coming immigration battle in Congress. This will be an ugly battle not just for politicians of both parties, but for the Roman Catholic Church. Does the American Catholic community include all Catholics, or just some Catholics? Will Catholic immigrants be seen as truly our brothers and sisters in Christ? Or does their national origin and legal status make them a second class of Catholics not worth our concern except to see they go back where they came from? Sheriff Joe is definitely in the second camp and Bishop Olmstead is silent.
I've written before that I really think the coming battle over immigration will be as divisive, if not more so, than the ones over gay marriage and abortion. This is a battle that will have lasting consequences for the American Catholic Church--a truly defining moment. The silence of Bishop Olmstead with regards to the blatant excesses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not acceptable. Whether he likes it or not, his flock is much bigger than just those who can afford to donate. He has a moral obligation as a bishop to defend those other Catholics and especially from the excesses from another part of his flock. He set that precedent for himself when he very publicly acted to deny communion to Janet Napolitano, castigate Fr. Jenkins, and send diocesan money to Maine.
Bishop Olmstead can not be a 'silent' cafeteria bishop when it comes to immigration and still claim to be the shepherd for his entire flock in Arizona. That is he can't unless we really do have one American Catholicism for those who can donate, and another for those who can't.