Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Wikimedia Commons

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) was received into the Catholic Church in a private ceremony in the Chapel of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee on Monday.  Conversions of a political big shots do not tend to be overlooked by the hierarchy, and I’m told that the congressman, who has represented a wealthy district north of the city for 35 years, had no fewer than three eminences on hand: former Milwaukee archbishop Cardinal Tim Dolan, present Milwaukee archbishop Jerome Listecki, and Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison.

Sensenbrenner had previously identified himself as an “Anglican Catholic,” so jumping the Tiber was for him not much of a leap religiously. One one matter of public policy, however, he’s seriously out of step with American bishops: immigration reform.

In 2005, he led the way for the House of Representatives to pass the “Sensenbrenner Bill,” a draconian piece of legislation that, among other things, would have made it a crime to assist a an undocumented immigrant to remain in the United States. Fortunately, the bill died in the Senate.

Last year, Sensenbrenner denounced the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill as “the most radical amnesty proposal in our country’s history.” By contrast, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, declared, “I commend the U.S. Senate on the vote and for the bi-partisan cooperation displayed during the legislative process. I urge the House of Representatives to follow the U.S. Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive reform bill as soon as possible.” And Cardinal Dolan, in his capacity as president of the USCCB, wrote a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner urging the House to follow suit.

I’d like to think that Dolan et al. did not let this week’s opportunity slip to persuade Sensenbrenner to get with the program on an issue that really is central to the social teaching of his new church. Even though immigration reform looks dead in the House this session, the conversion of Jim Sensenbrenner might actually make a difference.

Categories: Beliefs, Politics


Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


  1. “…had no fewer than three eminences [prelates? bishops?] on hand: former Milwaukee [A]rchbishop Cardinal Tim Dolan, present Milwaukee [A]rchbishop Edward [aka Jerome] Listecki, and Bishop Edward [aka Robert] Morlino of Madison…”

    Some expert religious reporting this…

    • Don’t leave out the fact that when Cardinal Dolan, now of New York, was archbishop of Milwaukee, his most notable (?) fete was to hide diocesan funds in cemetery endowments so the archdiocese could declare itself broke and unable to pay legal fees and court-ordered awards to victims of clerical sexual abuse.

      Dolan’s reward from Benedict XVI? New York and his red hat–to say nothing of the hot dogs from 5th Av. venders he fill his eminent girth. And those dogs have been paid for, of course, from archdiocesan funds that have not–yet–been sequestered in cemetery endowments.

      Hold on! We’re still in for a bumpy ride! At least our kids are, those who were sexually abused by “holy,” celibate, “chaste,” “reverend” clergy–or whose whose clerical abusers’ criminal antics were not covered-up by excellent bishops eminent cardinals, and holiness popes..

      • Oh yes, and as soon as the excellent, eminent Dolan was ensconced in New York by the holy Benedict, Benedict further rewarded Dolan for his cover-up antics of the misdeeds of the clergy of “Holy Mother Church” by pushing him ahead of the long, long tradition of the vice-presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops moving into the presidency of that excellent, eminent organization.

        How can the reverend, excellent, eminent, holy clergy of the Catholic Church now dare to preach morals to anyone? Few are listening. The pews are emptying. Even talk by any clerics about finally recognizing that homosexuals are sexual and people, too, perhaps beginning a discussion in some corners about recognizing some types of human relationships between them, will no doubt fall on deaf ears because because so many dishonest clerics are embedded in the church “leadership.” The problem is that the leadership is limited to clerics!

  2. Three prelates (two excellencies and one eminence) makes this look like Constantine was again converting and his whole empire would follow. I sure hope Scott Kevin Walker, Governor Deluxe of Wisconsin, doesn’t do the same.

    • Heading: Spiritual Politics


      Seems these men need to go back and start over.

      And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marveled at him.
      Mark 12.17

      Peace and Love

  3. Sensenbrenner, with bias and prejudice, should make a very good (bad) Catholic. It’s surprising that he didn’t convert back in the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy days when priests showed only their backs to congregations, when there was even more bigotry than there is now toward those who not in full agreement with dictated catechisms.

  4. Just to be nice, too bad Sensenbrenner didn’t join the church when the fast and abstinence laws were in effect, presumably rigorously during Lent–if you know what I mean?

  5. Ogni conversione è un mistero del profondo di ogni cuore.
    Ogni tentativo di “tirare per il bavero” la scelta meditata di un fratello è sempre un limite alla libertá profonda dell’uomo.
    Il rispetto delle scelte di ogni uomo è la strada maestra per la ricerca dell’unitá degli uomini.

  6. In 2005, he led the way for the House of Representatives to pass the “Sensenbrenner Bill,” a draconian piece of legislation that, among other things, would have made it a crime to assist a an undocumented immigrant to remain in the United States. Fortunately, the bill died in the Senate.

    You fancy prosecuting someone as an accomplice is ‘draconian’? Why not at least be consistent and transparent and admit your objection is to immigration law per se?

    • I fancy someone who uses analogies of criminal law to apply to immigration law to be woefully ignorant on the subject. They are not the same thing.

      My objection is mostly to people who talk about defending immigration laws they know nothing about. It bespeaks of less than reasonable agendas. Immigration law is a semi-functional hodge-podge of contradictory interests all smushed together to a confusing mess.

      Sensenbrenner’s Bill was an unconstitutional, unconscionable mess that could only come from the mind of a malicious bigot. A law which would be used prosecute legal counsel of someone on the basis of the status of their client is rather silly.

      • I fancy someone who uses analogies of criminal law to apply to immigration law to be woefully ignorant on the subject –

        You fancy. No one ever persuaded you that assertions of understanding are just that, arrogant poses.

        No law is operative if it is not enforced. That requires cops, courts, and detention. Violations of immigration law are not analogous to civil disputes between persons.

  7. I’d like to think that Dolan et al. did not let this week’s opportunity slip to persuade Sensenbrenner to get with the program on an issue that really is central to the social teaching of his new church

    Elimination of border controls is ‘central to the social teaching’ of the Church? Advocating it is binding on member?

    Do you ever tire of these frauds?

    • Didn’t you get the memo, the Catholic Church wants open immigration from Latin America. It gives them greater influence in American society.

      Nobody is talking about elimination of border controls. You can put that strawman back in the bin. No need for burning it today.

  8. Nothing more than a marrriage of convenience for both Sensenbrunner and the catholic church to continue to preach their “Christian” gospel of hate and dislike. You honestly expect Sensenbrunner to change his views on immigration because of his supposed conversion? Remember, it is election season. This was just an opportunity for him to get some positive press for himself and his party. No, if anything I expect him to toughen his rhetoric and hate of immigrents except he now also has the backing of the church led by Dolan. Note to both Sensenbrunner and Dolan: The American people are no longer fooled by those who would use religion to furher their own political views. That time has long ago passed. Why do you think church membership and attendence has continually gone downwards throughout the years. We recognize your electioneering for what it is!

    • Nothing more than a marrriage of convenience for both Sensenbrunner and the catholic church to continue to preach their “Christian” gospel of hate and dislike.

      You ought to learn to think rather than regurgitate cliches.

    • Mark Silk

      For the record, Sensenbrenner cannot be accused of converting for the sake of
      positive press. I found out about the story from a source in Milwaukee, but no notice was given to the local news media.

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