The Not-So-Pious Partridge Calls Phoenix’s Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted a Wimp on Immigration | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

The Not-So-Pious Partridge Calls Phoenix’s Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted a Wimp on Immigration

BAAAAD SHEPHERD Allow this avian to wow Christian and heathen alike with a little preachifyin', thus demonstrating that The Bird's days of forced Sunday school as a wee peeper were not totally in vain. Please turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11, and follow...
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Allow this avian to wow Christian and heathen alike with a little preachifyin', thus demonstrating that The Bird's days of forced Sunday school as a wee peeper were not totally in vain.

Please turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11, and follow along as this beaker reads the words of Jesus Christ.

"I am the good shepherd," saith the Man from Galilee. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

Now, brothers and sisters, the question before us is whether or not Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted is doing all in his power to be a good shepherd to his flock, a.k.a. the members of the Diocese of Phoenix — specifically, the least powerful among them, those who are undocumented.

This is no idle query. The Phoenix diocese's Hispanic Ministry office estimates that Latinos constitute anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of all Catholics in Phoenix. Sure, the undocumented are only a part of that near-half, but they are some of the church's most devoted followers.

Bishop Olmsted is their spiritual leader and protector, as he is to all Catholics in the Phoenix area, regardless of whether or not they are here legally. Note that the bishop's crosier, his curlicue symbol of authority, is referred to as a pastoral staff, pastor being the Latin word for shepherd.

Locally, the bishop's voice carries immense influence. And Bishop Olmsted has not been shy about using his authority, sometimes telling pew-shiners what to do at the polls.

For instance, in 2006, His Excellency instructed Scottsdale Catholics that they should vote for a lap-dance ban in city strip clubs. Tough moral stand there, Bishop.

More recently, Olmsted and Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas signed a pastoral letter urging Sand Land Catholics to vote yes on Proposition 102, the ballot measure that would constitutionally ban gay marriage in the state. See, same-sexers have to live in sin 'cause, um, they're already living in sin. Or so goes what passes for religious logic.

But when it comes to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Hispanic-hunting sweeps and raids, anti-brown dragnets that regularly rend families apart, leaving children without parents and all undocumented trembling in fear, the bishop is as quiet as the proverbial church mouse.

"We need to have the bishop present at our side when we have actions against what's happening to the Hispanic community in this county," Hector Yturralde, president of the immigrant rights coalition Somos America, told this tweeter recently. "We need to see him personally take a stand."

Yturralde argues the need is urgent, considering that Arpaio is, almost weekly, going after landscapers, corn vendors, candle makers, cooks, and cleaners — otherwise law-abiding folk who lack the necessary papers. Yturralde recently wrote to the bishop on behalf of his group, which represents 32 local organizations, pleading for him to protect his flock, many of whom are being regularly ravaged by MCSO wolves. He noted that some county Catholics are afraid to attend services, take their kids to school, or seek medical care, all because they fear the sheriff's dastardly dragnets.

"Your voice is needed in our midst," insisted Yturralde in the missive, "not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable."

One of those comfortable in need of afflicting, Sheriff Joe, reportedly attends a Catholic church in Fountain Hills. Sure, Nickel Bag's a secular leader, and has a heart made of chimney rock. But Christianity has a long tradition of church leaders challenging the morality of heads of state and public officials. From St. Thomas Becket (a Catholic), who was assassinated for going head-to-head with the English King Henry II, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (a Baptist), who challenged everyone from racist Southern police to U.S. presidents.

The bishop's flack, Jim Dwyer, says Olmsted is working behind the scenes, which, he claims, is far more effective than denouncing injustice from the pulpit or joining press conferences or protests. Dwyer pointed to a pastoral letter on migration the bishop signed that urged Catholics to welcome immigrants into their midst, as well as a January op-ed by Olmsted in the Arizona Republic criticizing Arizona's employer-sanctions law.

Plus, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently called on the Bush administration to cease ICE raids on employers, and since Olmsted's a bishop, doesn't that count?

As for trying to rein in Sheriff Joe, well, Olmsted ain't gonna pull a Becket or a King. Hell, look what happened to them! Plus, he's got a sweet gig and a really rockin' wardrobe that goes with it.

"The bishop doesn't want to get into personalities," Dwyer informed The Bird.

But wait a sec. Olmsted didn't have a problem banning Governor Janet Napolitano from speaking on church property a few years ago because she disagreed with the church's teachings on stuff like abortion and gay rights.

"For the Catholic Church to back up its teaching through actions directed at public officials is not something new," the persnickety prelate told Phoenix's paper of record at that time concerning the ban on the governor.

So, uh, what's the difference between the Napster and Joe, Bishop? Doesn't Joe's persecution of your fellow Catholics demand that you act? When Joe's thugs raided Chandler's Gold Canyon candle company, some 60 suspected illegal immigrants were collared. Potentially, that's 60 families decimated. Yet you sit there in your majestic robes and decline to lift a holy pinky? And that made for just one black day out of many in the Valley of the Sun.

Moreover, other Roman Catholic prelates have been unafraid to take a personal stand, such as L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been a fierce advocate on behalf of migrants, and Rhode Island Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who has demanded a "timeout" for ICE raids in his backyard.

"People ask 'What would Jesus do?'" Tobin told the Catholic News Service. "I know for sure what Jesus would not do. Jesus would not sweep into a community, gather up a large number of people, disrupt families, and create anxiety. In my own mind, I know Jesus would not do that."

Sure, The Bird gives Olmsted credit for opposing some evil anti-immigrant legislation in the past. But his current position is too feeble and impotent for a callous opportunist like our crusty top cop. Could it be the cowardly clergyman's fearful of pissing off rich, white, bigoted Catholics who fork over big bucks in offerings to the diocese?

Whatever the reason, the bishop ain't following the Gospel he preaches. As mentioned above, the carpenter's son said the good shepherd puts himself on the line for his sheep. By contrast, that makes the bishop a baaaaad shepherd.


Know what this wrathful warbler hates most about Zona politics? Being right.

In column after column about the mess caused by Sheriff Arpaio's Guadalupe sweep earlier this year, The Bird warned that the petty politics of some in that mile-square town would end by handing Joe a victory. Even a New Times cover story on the MCSO's Guadalupe police action ("Brown Out," May 29) predicted that a recall then under way would result in a new mayor and the placating of Joe's ravenous ego.

The recall was not of then-Mayor Rebecca Jimenez, who courageously confronted Joe on the night of April 3, when 80 sheriff's deputies flooded the town and pulled over countless cars for broken tail lights and cracked windshields in an effort to ferret out as many undocumented as possible.

Rather, the recall targeted the mayor's cousin Patty Jimenez, part of Herroner's 4-3 majority on the Town Council at the time. Ultimately, the group behind the recall — led by longtime Guadalupe activist Socorro Bernasconi, and supported by her husband, Santino, deacon of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church — was gunning for Mayor Jimenez.

Everyone in town who was paying attention knew that as soon as Patty Jimenez was successfully recalled by the Bernasconis' political machine, their candidate for her seat, Joe Sanchez, would replace her, and a vote would be taken to demote Rebecca Jimenez from mayor to council member. (Guadalupe's mayor is elected from the council by the council.) All this happened not long after the recall election resulted in a handy victory by Sanchez.

Santino Bernasconi helps lead a Public Safety Committee that was interested in removing the MCSO as the law enforcement of the town before Arpaio did his sweep in the sleepy burg. There had long been problems with deputies entering homes without warrants, long response times to 911 calls, and the insensitivity of MCSO gendarmes to the customs of the Yaqui Tribe, which makes up nearly half the town. (The rest of the population is of Mexican descent.)

In fact, as The Bird was covering the sweep that night, he crossed paths with Socorro Bernasconi. She very memorably stated that the sheriff "can kiss that contract goodbye," referring to the MCSO's $1.2 million contract for police protection. The statement was recorded by Dennis Gilman, part of an effort by the activist group Copwatch to monitor and record all stops of residents by MCSO personnel.

Later that eve, Mayor Jimenez calmly walked up to Arpaio at his command station in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store, presenting him with a press release that asked him to cease his sweep in the town. Arpaio exploded in a childish fit, promising Jimenez that the MCSO would be back the next day in full force, taunting her with the prospect of a canceled police contract.

"If you don't like the way I operate," Arpaio fumed, "you go get your own police department. You've got 90 days to cancel your contract — 90 days! You wanna cancel it, feel free to."

Jimenez told the loony lawman that the town would look into it, and walked away. Her patient defiance of Arpaio can still be witnessed in the online video archives of KPNX Channel 12's Web site. The next day, the sweep resumed, but without Joe's mobile command post.

On April 18, Arpaio formalized his threat with a letter to Jimenez giving her notice of a 180-day termination of the contract. Really, Arpaio didn't have the authority to end the contract. He needed the agreement of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which was also a party to the agreement.

Last week, the Supes finally voted 3-1 to end the contract, with the one "no" vote cast by Democrat and Joe critic Mary Rose Wilcox. But that was not before Guadalupe's new mayor, Frankie Montiel, groveled before the board, basically telling members he was willing to bend over frontward for whatever the sheriff had in store for his little town.

He called the raid of Guadalupe "a pretty good day for law enforcement," telling the Supes he wanted to meet with Arpaio to work things out. Montiel shuffled before the Supes, transforming the town's collective glory in protesting the April sweeps into a craven capitulation to the big bad sheriff.

"We are law-abiding citizens," fumbled Montiel at one point. "And we do respect the dedication of full law enforcement by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

Santino Bernasconi then approached the lectern to endorse Montiel and the council's wish to retain the sheriff 'til the contract expires in 2010. This, despite his having organized at least two meetings at Our Lady of Guadalupe with the express aim of ejecting the sheriff from the town. The reason for this treachery? A small-town power play that allows the Bernasconi crowd to take credit for saving Guadalupe from ruin, when, in fact, they are delivering it into the hands of its enemy.

Currently, the town's being held hostage by Arpaio. Though Supervisor Wilcox argued for extending the town a 60-day negotiation period with the sheriff, Supervisor Don Stapley deferred to Arpaio like the pathetic brown-noser he is, insisting that since the sheriff wanted it this way, that's the way it had to be. He verbally patted Montiel on the head, saying the Supes could work with the new mayor, but still moved that the 180-day clock to cease all law enforcement for Guadalupe begin immediately. The board followed his lead.

"I think Frankie's sacrificing our town to Arpaio," said former mayor Jimenez, who was in the audience on the day of the supervisors meeting. "I was disgusted by his remarks."

Jimenez expects another sweep in Guadalupe, perhaps before the election. Arpaio's battered pride must be avenged as the price of a renewed contract between the MCSO and Guadalupe. Already, Joe's told the press he would reconsider cancellation as long as he can do what he likes to the town.

"Arpaio won't get resistance from Frankie," observed Jimenez. "The sheriff might not let me go through that barrier again with all his deputies, but I'll be on a bullhorn this time, out there with the protesters."

Jimenez was exploring alternatives to the MCSO before being deposed. But now it's likely we'll never know whether these efforts would have prevented Arpaio from devouring Guadalupe yet again.

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