Immigration is a hot-button issue these days, in the United States and around the world. If Catholics get the public conversation on immigration wrong, says Rev. Robert McTeigue, SJ, "the consequences are very high."

Father McTeigue, a professor of philosophy and theology, has taught and lectured on several continents, particularly on the subjects of medical ethics and rhetoric. He'll be the keynote speaker at this year's opening convocation for St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Albany.

That event, which kicks off the 28th academic year for the Diocese's graduate school of theology and ministry, will be held Aug. 30, 7 p.m., at Mater Christi parish in Albany.

Father McTeigue's topic will be, "The Church and Immigration: Four Approaches -- the Emotional; the Cynical; the Factual; the Faithful." 

Open minds
The speaker said he is foremost a philosopher: someone who "helps people find rules for intelligent conversation." If Christians want to be part of public debate about the Church and immigration -- and they should, he said -- they need "an open mind, a good will and a willingness to learn."

When it comes to the country's rules on legal immigration and the treatment of immigrants and refugees, Father McTeigue said, Catholics have "a lot of good intentions," but are not doing a lot of listening or fact-finding to make sure they're well-informed on the issue.

Instead, emotion can often rule the day.

"We can't leave emotion out of it, because we're human beings. But emotion has to move us to action," Father McTeigue asserted. "We want to act well. Emotion can be our companion, but it shouldn't be steering" Catholics' views on immigration.

Compassion, sorrow for those who are suffering at home and abroad, and "a desire to love those who are already in our care" are reasonable and expected, the speaker said. "There are people who are genuinely suffering. It would be wrong for us to be unmoved by that."

What we do
But Catholics should not just look to the government to resolve the crisis, he said.

"The crisis of immigration has to prompt us to rethink what good social action is," Father McTeigue told The Evangelist. "The Church has some very important things to say. This is not a time to be silent.

"We don't want the Church to outsource the corporal works of mercy. [We need to look at] what we can do, rather than what we want the government to do for us."

In his talk, Father McTeigue will offer facts about immigration, from numbers to costs, and resources where Catholics can learn more.

He also advised reading legislation on immigration, noting that "the 1965 Immigration Act is only 12 pages long. Nobody's read it." He suggested that St. Thomas Aquinas' reflection on natural law tradition and the Gospel accounts of the Holy Family's experiences would be good reads, as well.

"We have to be careful not just to cherry-pick our favorite Scriptures" to defend a certain perspective on immigration, he added.

Father McTeigue cautioned against the "false dilemma between bridges and walls" that has led to arguments even within the Catholic community, where some advocate totally open immigration and others want much more control over who comes into the United States.

Building doors
"We need to change our language: 'Walls are un-Christian; bridges are Christian,'" Father McTeigue said. "Intelligent people build doors."

Although he won't make recommendations on immigration in America, the speaker noted that "a strong body of analysis that indicates tax dollars are better spent abroad than in the U.S. For every person you bring to U.S. to help, you could help 12 people overseas."

He advocates an "examination of conscience" for parishes and individuals on how much they can help -- and refraining from attributing ill motives to others if they have different views.

For those who attend his talk, Father McTeigue hopes "to help people to execute better their good intentions.

"I want to give this particular audience not answers, but a set of tools to continue the conversation as faithful Catholics in their own geographical and social context," he said. "Our Catholic voice is being muffled and not being well-heard."

In a recent column for the online Christian publication Aleteia, Father McTeigue addressed the topic of terrorism and people's response to it. His words could apply to immigration, as well: "If we are to survive, [the public conversation on immigration] must change us. It must move us to conversion, to the sacraments, to Scripture, to evangelization, and above all, to the saving truth, who is Jesus Christ."