Bishop R. Walker Nickless Monday issued a statement criticizing Congressman Steve King, a Roman Catholic, for his characterizations of Latino immigrants.
Bishop R. Walker Nickless Monday issued a statement criticizing Congressman Steve King, a Roman Catholic, for his characterizations

of Latino immigrants.
July 30, 2013

Sioux City Diocese Bishop R. Walker Nickless says remarks U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, recently made about Latino immigrants are "disappointing" and detract from the "dignity" of human beings.

The bishop, who leads the church in an area of the country with a growing Latino Catholic population, weighed into the continuing King controversy in a statement issued to the media late Monday morning.

"I am disappointed by Representative King's remarks, which speak of migrants in a way that undermines their human dignity and the respect owed them as children of God," Nickless said. "While Catholics may disagree on the specific approach to reforming the immigration system, they should agree that the immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and humane manner. I urge the U.S. House of Representatives to address the immigration issue on its merits. I support common sense reform that provides a reasonable path to citizenship for the undocumented and promotes family unity."

King is a Roman Catholic who attends St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Denison.

King, a fierce opponent of a path to citizenship for immigrants in the United States without proper papers, told the conservative news website Newsmax that he didn't agree with the suggestion that many youths who aren't legal citizens are also high-achieving.

"For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," King said.

St. Rose of Lima Parish is about 30 percent Latino, although more than 80 percent of baptisms involve Latino babies, said Father Paul Kelly, pastor of St. Rose of Lima.

"That's the future of the church," Kelly said.

In fact, St. Rose of Lima, which built a $3 million church in 2005, will celebrate a mortgage-burning Aug. 25 tied to the retirement of $1.7 million associated with the construction project. Of the roughly 750 families in the parish, 250 are Latino, and they played a role with paying down the debt, Kelly said.

Kelly, a Sioux Rapids native who has served parishes in Coon Rapids, Roselle, Halbur and Glidden, said King's remarks about Latinos are at odds with his experiences in Denison.

"I think the issue is how we state things," Kelly said. "I would never have stated it in that way. We always get ourselves into trouble when we generalize on a particular culture or race."

Kelly, who speaks fluent Spanish, said the Latinos with whom he interacts are church-going and hardworking, and integral to the success of parish events - like the annual St. Rose of Lima celebration in August.

He doesn't ask members of his parish for immigration papers.

"I never ask and I don't want to know because I want them to know that this is their home," Kelly said. "To me, it's irrelevant. My profession is spiritual."

Kelly, who said he generally works to steer clear of the "wrestling" arena that is American politics, said he fully supports the bishop's statement condemning King's remarks.

"The Latino community is very aware that there are forces and influences in our society where they don't feel welcome," Kelly said. "They know when it comes to me, I don't believe that."