Bishop R. Walker Nickless
Bishop R. Walker Nickless
August 28, 2013

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese is encouraging priests in the 111 parishes he leads to use the pulpit and church newsletters to advocate a path to legalized, earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Specifically, the bishop is recommending that priests use their homilies to preach the moral imperative behind advocacy for the controversial component of immigration reform, diocesan officials said Tuesday.

"It will be up to the individual pastor if they want to include it in their homily," said Kristie Arlt, communications director for the diocese and a member of the bishop's senior staff. "He's not mandating. He's strongly recommending they consider it."

After meeting with his senior staff Tuesday, Nickless decided on the approach to connect the diocese with a larger push by the Catholic Church in the United States on immigration policy scheduled around Sunday, Sept. 8.

Arlt said all members of the bishop's staff were on the same page with the plan.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has consistently advocated for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policies that secures borders and gives undocumented immigrants the chance to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship. Nickless himself is on record in support of that position.

Key Catholic Church leaders see the next weeks as crucial in the future of immigration policy.

"The president and Congress can no longer wait to address this important issue," Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles recently said. "In the absence of comprehensive reform, many states and localities are taking the responsibility of enforcing immigration law into their own hands. This has led to abuses and injustices for many U.S. families and immigrant communities."

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. The bishops are timing the pro-immigration events to influence the U.S. House of Representatives when members return from the August recess, Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the bishops' conference, said in an interview with The Daily Times Herald.

The U.S. House of Representatives has 136 Catholics, about 30 percent of the total representation in that body.

Appleby said the Catholic Church effort on immigration, while ostensibly bipartisan, is aimed primarily at persuading Catholic Republicans in Congress.

In addition to advocacy connected to Masses, a number of dioceses are organizing "prayerful marches" and other events, Appleby said.

Appleby said one prominent Catholic Republican, U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, has unwittingly served as a powerful advocate for immigration reform by making colorful statements in opposition to a path to a citizenship.

"When he makes comments it helps the cause for immigration reform," Appleby said.

King's often red-hot rhetoric forces the hand of Republicans seeking outreach to growing parts of the American demographic, Appleby said.

"It creates pressure on the leadership and others in the House to correct the perception," Appleby said.