Episcopal Bishop Oliver B. Garver Jr. and other Orange County religious leaders Tuesday joined Diocese of Orange Bishop Norman F. McFarland in denouncing the U.S. Border Patrol for entering a Roman Catholic Church in Orange to seize illegal immigrants.
The immigrants "are simply seeking the protection of the church to which they belong, which has nurtured and protected them all their lives," said Garver, the suffragan (assistant) bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which includes all of Orange County.
"To act so precipitously, not to pause and let church officials and superiors in the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) discuss the issues is rather scandalous and frightening," he said.
"We're not pursuing armed felons, apt to go on a shooting rampage. We're pursuing people who in the best American tradition want to work.
"The church cannot be a place of absolute sanctuary, not in the laws of this land," Garver continued. "But there's a long tradition of the church protecting the weak and the powerless, if only for as long as is necessary for all the issues to be discussed and worked out."
Rabbi Bernard King of Shir Ha-ma' Alot Temple in Newport Beach said his initial reaction was one of "distaste" upon learning that a Border Patrol agent entered La Purisima Catholic Church during an early morning Mass on Tuesday and arrested seven people suspected of being illegal aliens.
The entry occurred Tuesday during a sweep along East Chapman Avenue in Orange, where scores of day laborers gather each day in search of work.
About 160 men were arrested during the sweep, a Border Patrol spokesman said. Most were taken to an INS processing center for deportation to Mexico. But a Border Patrol spokesman said late Tuesday that those arrested in the church remained in custody at the agency's San Clemente holding facility.
Rabbi King indicated general disapproval of entry into a religious institution in pursuit of someone: "Religious institutions should ideally be sanctuaries so long as someone is not committing violent crimes. You're dealing with people who are extremely poor, who are over here trying to feed themselves and their families. Under those circumstances, I would prefer to see the INS stop at the doorway."
Bishop McFarland said he was "astonished" by the Border Patrol's behavior.
"It's a real stupid thing and irresponsible. Nothing warrants them entering a church and disrupting a service," McFarland said. "There was no question of public safety being involved. I put it to a lack of discretion."
"I think it's outrageous," said Maurice Ogden, minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Anaheim, the only publicly declared sanctuary church in Orange County.
Tim Hart-Andersen, associate executive of Los Ranchos Presbytery, which includes 62 Presbyterian churches in Orange County and southern Los Angeles County, said he was torn by the INS entering the church in Orange.
"My gut reaction is that it upsets me to see this kind of interaction between the INS and a church," he said. "But on the other hand, the INS is trying to uphold the laws of the country, and as far as I know, there's not a law against entering the church in pursuit of an individual. It's not like an embassy.
"I suppose (there are) those who say the police should not be involved in any church. I hope they would not have problems with calling the police in when they are needed, when a criminal threatens parishioners or steals things," Hart-Andersen said.
"If the church had offered sanctuary and the INS entered, I would be more upset about it," he added.
Traditionally, Mexican immigrants believe that churches can be trusted to protect them, said Sister Carmen Sarati, who works with Latino families at St. Joseph Church in Santa Ana. "Many Latin people, especially Mexicans, don't trust their governmental agencies, so they trust the church."
Last year, INS agents requested permission to enter Mission San Juan Capistrano to pass out information on amnesty, according to Brian McInerney, director of the mission visitor center.
"We said no. We didn't think it was the time, nor the place," McInerney said. "When it comes to private property, especially religious property, it's not something that is proper."
Meanwhile, Father Gregory Boyle, pastor of a sanctuary church, Dolores Mission Church near downtown Los Angeles, called the INS act "a violation of a longstanding tradition that the church is a place where people can expect to be safeguarded."