Catholic U.S. bishops (Credit: Getty)

The New York Times is reporting that on September 8th priests and bishops across the country will join at masses and other pastoral  events to speak out strongly on behalf of immigration reform.

The decision by the Catholic Church to put their full weight behind comprehensive immigration reform is a very welcome and overdue one. It also smacks of the influence of the new pope and his vision of a more pastoral church reaching out to the neediest.

A spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Bishops put it well when speaking about politicians. “They have to hear the message that we want this done.”

It is the political thing but also the right thing to do. The impact could be remarkable.

As The New York Times noted: “The political campaign by Catholic priests is certain to catch the attention of Catholic members of Congress. Catholics are the largest single religious group in Congress, making up just over 30 percent of the members, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project.

The current House has 136 Catholic members, including Speaker John A. Boehner and 60 other Republicans, according to Pew.”

It places the church, still one of the most powerful forces in American life, directly in the line of battle on an issue of paramount importance.

I suspect that the new era of Pope Francis is in part responsible for this dramatic shift. He has urged his clergy to be pastors and seekers of those in need and on immigration it certainly seems they are.

The future of the church is Hispanic especially in the west and south but there is also a Christian message here about helping the least among us -- including about 50,000 Irish undocumented.

The least among American Catholics are undoubtedly the undocumented who have no voices of their own and are demonized in many cases by Catholic legislators.

Indeed the blatantly racist Congressman Steve King of Iowa is himself a Catholic and he was forced to admit this move by the church was a powerful one.

“If the church puts out a unified message, there will be some Catholic legislators who will want to accept that guidance, because they want to get there anyway,” Mr. King said. “It gives them cover.”

The church has opposed the Obama administration on every issue from contraception to same sex marriage so this move also allows them to appear bipartisan.

It will be fascinating to watch the impact of what they do. I have a feeling it could be a major turning point both for the church and immigration reform. Let’s hope so.