A Roman Catholic bishop in Washington State has enraged regional pro-life activists with a heavy-handed approach to a local pro-life charity’s fundraising event.
The administration of Bishop Joseph J. Tyson (pictured above left) has actively discouraged parishes in his diocese from advertising a dinner hosted by Image Point Mobile Medical Services, citing two reasons. First, he cited the failure of the charity to “collaborate in a meaningful way with the Diocese,” despite receiving a grant from the Knights of Columbus. Second, he cited the immigration views of the Image Point’s guest speaker.
Image Point is a private nonprofit that maintains and operates a mobile medical unit that offers life-saving interventions at the site of abortion clinics, including counseling and ultrasound services. Organizers planned a fundraising dinner in Yakima to raise awareness of Image Point’s works, and money for another mobile testing facility.
The invited guest speaker of the group, who drew the indignant disapproval of Bishop Tyson, is conservative radio host and LifeZette Editor-in-Chief Laura Ingraham.
Bishop’s ‘Policies and Procedures’ Invoked
In an email sent to parishes in the diocese, and obtained by LifeZette, Monsignor Robert Siler, chief of staff to Tyson, blocked church leaders from promoting the event. The following is a transcription of the email, provided by one of its recipients:
Image Point Mobile Service is holding a fundraising dinner in Yakima later this month. While they are undoubtedly doing some good with their service, it is problematic in two ways.
First, Image Point has yet to respond to my letter last fall asking them to clarify their willingness to collaborate in a meaningful way with the Diocese. The organization was cleared two years ago by the bishop to receive a large donation from the Knights of Columbus then withdrew their tentative agreement to collaborate after spending the money.
Second, the speaker they have invited, Laura Ingraham, while having a positive pro-life witness including her personal choice to adopt three children from other countries, is a strident opponent of many of the immigration positions held by the US bishops. As such, her visit to Yakima sends a profoundly mixed message to our community. As a very public figure with a national audience, she is held to a higher degree. (emphasis added)
Given these two points, it is not appropriate to advertise Image Point’s event in any way. This isn’t about advertising future events, as will we make those decisions on a case by case basis and should be brought to me.
Monsignor Robert Siler
Diocese of Yakima
According to a prominent, New York-based expert in Canon Law, the bishop is in violation of clear church precepts. Specifically, “No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses,” according to Code I, Can. 220 (“The Obligations and Rights of the Christian Faithful”).
Tyson’s singling out of Ingraham, a lay person, for her pro-immigration enforcement positions is a stunning development, especially considering the firestorm set off when Pope Francis maligned Donald Trump’s Christianity because of the GOP front-runner’s own immigration views.
“It is extremely disconcerting that church officials chose to impugn the actions of Image Point, along with my standing as a good Catholic, in an effort to suppress turnout for these beautiful events,” Ingraham, a former litigator, said. “By disseminating this warning to parishes, the diocese is in violation of Canon Law and hurting a pro-life group that it couldn’t control,” the radio and television commentator remarked.
When asked about his email, Msgr. Robert Siler told LifeZette, “It was an internal communication to our pastors, reminding them of our policies and procedures.”
Insisting there was no intent to disparage, he said, “We have not made any public criticisms of Ms. Ingraham … What we have told our pastors is we’re not promoting Image Point’s event.”
Siler insisted there was no intent to “embarrass, or pick a fight, with Ms. Ingraham.” He went on to say, “But we reserve the right to promote those speakers, and those events, that we believe best uplift our Catholic teachings in their entirety.”
Ingraham took umbrage at the notion that banning advertisements of her appearances would not “embarrass” her, noting her remarks will now be pre-judged to not “best uplift our Catholic teachings in their entirety.”
“So are we now saying that Catholics should ignore the rule of law and that only those who seek to dismantle our borders can speak credibly on pro-life issues? For some reason the diocese is intentionally undermining a pro-life organization and personally attacking me. I would have expected more in this Year of Mercy,” Ingraham responded.
When pressed on which of Ingraham’s views on immigration are in conflict with the church, Tyson’s representative Siler conceded church teaching acknowledges a nation’s sovereign right to maintain its borders. Canon Law further calls on migrants to obey the laws of their host nations.
A Pattern of Obstructing Pro-Life Efforts
In addition to Image Point, at least three other local pro-life efforts have been targeted by Bishop Tyson in the past.
Shortly after taking his position in Yakima, the bishop called off an annual March for Life that had been held for decades and organized by church leaders and volunteers. According to sources familiar with the incident, Tyson’s reasoning was based on a dubious argument that the church could be liable for anyone injured at the annual event.
“He kicked it to the curb,” Lenette Lindemann, one of Image Point’s organizers, recalled. She recounted a conversation with Tyson in which he told her, in effect, “You can be pro-life and support babies or you can be more pro-life and take care of immigrants.”
In another incident, a local family clinic, the Hope Medical Group, was ready to acquire ultrasound equipment with financial assistance from the Knights of Columbus, the largest international lay organization in the Catholic Church.
Since the grant would be applied in Tyson’s diocese, the bishop needed to sign a one-page form granting his consent, sources familiar with the incident said. Tyson not only refused, but the bishop barred the pro-life organization from advertising in any parish bulletins or from seeking out volunteers at church events. (The organization ultimately raised sufficient funds through a crowdfunding effort.)
Other local activists noted Tyson barred another pro-life group, 40 Days for Life, from having a presence in his parishes, under similar circumstances.
Church Focus on the Illegal Immigrant Cause
A half-dozen local pro-life activists, some of whom asked to remain anonymous, describe the bishop as consumed with the “migrant cause.” Indeed, the content on the website of the Archdiocese is in both English and Spanish, and boasts “Multicultural Ministries” to “honor the sacredness and interdependence of individuals and cultural groups.”
“The bishop leans left on a lot of things,” local Jesuit priest Fr. Bill Vogel pointed out to LifeZette. “Not all Catholics in this diocese agree with the bishop’s stand on open borders.”
Bishop Tyson’s activism on behalf of illegal immigrants is no recent development. In a 2011 post on the Yakima Diocese website, he praised President Obama’s executive amnesty. “One of my happy memories is the time I spent serving on the board of directors for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project,” Tyson reminisced.
In a 2014 homily, Tyson blamed federal immigration law for a state economy “built on fraud.” Tyson went on to call the congregation, composed primarily of illegal immigrants, “God’s chosen ones.”
Sources indicated Tyson’s top priorities are food banks for illegal immigrants and a program to offer health care coverage to migrants. One pro-life activist called these efforts duplicative, explaining longstanding organizations already exist in the region for those purposes. “[Bishop Tyson] is a one-trick pony on the immigration issue,” the source added.
Others see efforts to intimidate Catholics from speaking against some of the left-leaning policy pronouncements of church leaders. “I’ve been pro-life since I was a teenager,” Lindemann said. “To see the suppression is just amazing to me … It’s like Joe McCarthy trying to intimidate Laura.”
“I personally oppose the idea of going after a woman like Laura Ingraham speaking at a pro-life event. She has adopted three children,” Fr. Vogel said. “That to me sounds like Scripture — providing a life for these kids.”
Others in the community say “follow the money.”
A financial statement of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Yakima for the fiscal year 2015 shows the diocese received over $18 million in federal government grants in just one year, up $3 million from fiscal year 2014.
According to Monsignor Siler, the diocese is over 70 percent Hispanic; many of these members are undocumented, illegal immigrants.
The rising migrant population is filling the pews in Yakima, and bringing big federal grant dollars to the coffers of the diocese. The resources available to illegal immigrants in the region are in turn likely to encourage more undocumented migrants to come — making illegal immigration big business for Tyson.
Bishop Tyson has a “jealous and proprietary view of how funds should be spent in his diocese,” said one longtime local pro-life activist. “It’s all about immigration.”
The Image Point event, an “Evening to Remember with Laura Ingraham,” will continue, despite the expressed disapproval of Bishop Tyson. Tickets to support Image Point are being sold online.