Published June 17, 2010 | FOXNews.com
A longtime Catholic scholar is suggesting that bishops consider denying communion to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other officials who support the Arizona immigration law.
Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, religious author and outgoing director of Brooklyn College's Center for Study of Religion in Society and Culture, wrote in a column that Catholic leaders are holding back in their condemnation of the law, opening them up to charges of hypocrisy. Given that bishops have in the past threatened to withhold communion to officials who support abortion rights and other issues that run counter to church teaching, Stevens-Arroyo questioned why they weren't applying the same practice here.
"In the face of hideous injustice, words are not enough. Will any of today's bishops deny communion to Catholic officials who vote for this bill and its spawn of imitators in other states? Has censure been voiced against the local sheriff Joe Arpaio (a Catholic) who has led raids on Latinos?" he wrote, while adding that he doesn't personally support denying political figures communion.
Arpaio is the Maricopa County sheriff both loved and loathed for his crackdowns on illegal immigrants in the Phoenix area. He is facing renewed attention, including from religious groups, after he announced this week that he'll launch another raid as soon as the law goes into effect July 29.
The Arizona Ecumenical Council is urging the sheriff to stop what it calls his "excessive, wasteful and divisive campaign."
However, religious leaders in the state said they had not heard anybody talking about denying Arpaio or others communion -- a Catholic sacrament and the mose important part of the Mass, when parishioners consume bread and wine representing Jesus' body and blood.
Jan Olav Flaaten, director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, said he doesn't think anybody will withhold communion over the issue, though faith leaders have been lobbying against the law in meetings with state and federal officials.
Father Velasquez, pastor at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Maricopa, Ariz., also said the regional bishop has not asked any churches to deny communion over the immigration law and that he doesn't think that would happen.
Though bishops have threatened to withhold communion to officials, like Vice President Biden and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, for their support of abortion rights, Velasquez said the immigration debate is completely different.
"There's moral laws that are not being broken. ... Every country has a right to establish their boundaries," he said. "The fact that you can have immigration rules is moral. There's nothing wrong with that. ... Abortion is always taking an innocent life."
The director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, which opposes the immigration law, also said he wasn't aware of any religious leaders talking about denying communion to Arpaio and others.
Stevens-Arroyo, whose column was published on WashingtonPost.com, could not be reached for comment. In his article, he said communion should not be exploited for "political" purposes, but suggested some bishops might want to use it in this case.
"I am against denying communion as a political tool, but I think bishops who have done so about other issues like same-sex marriage create a dilemma for themselves. If they do not treat violations of Church teaching on immigration with the same measure as other issues, they run the risk of scandal to Catholic America that sees loyalty to all of the Magisterium as essential," he wrote.