One of the more dramatic moments of the recent Reform Not Raids Summit in Phoenix occurred on the second day of the national conference on immigration, shortly after moderator Danny Ortega opened up the floor to a volatile debate about whether the Phoenix diocese of the Roman Catholic Church was doing enough locally to combat the prevailing anti-immigrant bigotry here in Sand Land.
A couple of folks rose immediately in defense of the church, mentioning good work it does in this regard and suggesting that more was under way behind the scenes by Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who has refused to publicly take on Sheriff Joe Arpaio as the sheriff's deputies terrorize the immigrant community in Maricopa County and put the fear of Yahweh into Hispanic U.S. citizens, as well.
But then Somos America president Hector Yturralde rose and asked the question that put the onus squarely on the bishop's mitred noggin.
"How many people [here] right now work in the Catholic Church, in the diocese's office?" he asked of those present.
Pause. Crickets chirping.
"No representation," observed Yturralde. "Thank you."
The silence that met Yturralde's query mirrors Olmsted's muteness as Arpaio and his ski-masked 287(g)-trained thugs separate mothers from their children — as in the case of Ciria Lopez-Pacheco in January — and sometimes rough them up to the point of breaking their arms — as in the case of Hispanic hausfrau Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez, whose elbow was smashed while in MCSO custody.
Where is Olmsted as the MCSO mistreats his parishioners, breaks up families, and marches chained Hispanic prisoners through the streets like circus critters? Polishing his crosier? Laundering his purple robes?
"Somos America for the last year and a half has tried to get the bishop to make public statements about immigration," Yturralde told the summit's participants, noting that the only response he's gotten is from some of the bishop's flunkies paying him a visit and telling him that Olmsted really is doing something on immigration. Just not where the eye can see.
"As a leader, you have to stand up in public," said Yturralde. "And you have to state where the church — especially where the bishop of the diocese of Phoenix — stands. We have not seen that."
"He stands with Arpaio!" shouted someone in the crowd, to immediate applause.
Indeed, the bishop's relative inaction is in itself a green light to Arpaio, who is Catholic, that the church will not oppose him. Even though almost half of Olmsted's parish is Hispanic. Problem is, it's mostly the right-wing Catholic ofays who drop the most loot in the collection basket. And Olmsted is fearful of doing anything more than writing a letter here and there, talking about how immigrants are people, too, gosh darn it.
On other issues, however, the padre's gloves are off. In the past, he banned then-Governor Janet Napolitano from speaking on church property because she wasn't anti-abortion. During the last election, he campaigned in favor of Prop 102, the gay-marriage ban, going so far as to have a video message played in churches, where he argued against same-sexers' getting hitched.
In his latest dumbass political move, Olmsted blasted the University of Notre Dame president for inviting President Barack Obama to give the commencement address at the private, Roman Catholic college. Obama should be verboten, according to Olmsted and others, because he supports a woman's right to choose, as well as stem cell research.
Thing is, last time I checked, Notre Dame was still just outside frickin' South Bend, Indiana — whereas Joe Arpaio is in the bishop's backyard.
"The bishop doesn't want to get into personalities," the diocese's flack, Jim Dwyer, told me for a column item I did in September on the bishop's failure to protect his flock.
What Dwyer meant to say was, the bishop doesn't want to get into personalities when the personality involved is Joe Arpaio, or even Joe's partner in Hispanic persecutions, County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Not all Catholic Church muck-a-mucks lack huevos like Olmsted. L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony has been a two-fisted advocate for the undocumented, even going so far as to march in some pro-immigrant protests. Last year, Rhode Island Bishop Thomas J. Tobin demanded an end to ICE raids in his community. And just recently, Chicago's archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, called on Obama to put immigration reform on the front-burner, and cease all immigration raids.
"There is a darkness cast upon many families living among us who have been caught between the need for cheap labor and badly broken immigration laws," George told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We . . . are called to be that light for those forced onto the shadows."
Maybe the power of his prayer worked some mojo. Not long after George took his stance, the Washington Post reported that Napolitano, now Homeland Security secretary, has ordered a delay in planned ICE raids pending further review.