President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States brought an outcry from Catholic leaders across the United States.
Church leaders used phrases such as “devastating,” “chaotic” and
“cruel” to describe the Jan. 27 action that left already-approved
refugees and immigrants stranded at U.S. airports and led the Department
of Homeland Security to rule that green card holders — lawful permanent
U.S. residents — be allowed into the country.
“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history,” said
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich in a Jan. 29 statement. “The executive
order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those,
particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is
contrary to both Catholic and American values. Have we not repeated the
disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people
fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized
and excluded? We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we
have been on the other side of such decisions.
“Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and
oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the
United States,” he said. “They have left people holding valid visas and
other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places
some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at
the 11th hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust
“The Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the
United States,” which suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement
program for 120 days, bans entry from all citizens of seven
majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and
Somalia — for 90 days. It also establishes a religious criteria for
refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others
who may have equally compelling refugee claims.
“We are told this is not the ‘Muslim ban’ that had been proposed
during the presidential campaign, but these actions focus on
Muslim-majority countries,” said Cardinal Cupich. “Ironically, this ban
does not include the home country of 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.
Yet, people from Iraq, even those who assisted our military in a
destructive war, are excluded.”
The cardinal quoted Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress in 2015: “If we
want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life;
if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
He said Pope Francis “followed with a warning that should haunt us as
we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use
for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.'”
Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said the executive action was
“the introduction into law of campaign sloganeering rooted in xenophobia
and religious prejudice. Its devastating consequences are already
apparent for those suffering most in our world, for our standing among
nations, and for the imperative of rebuilding unity within our country
rather than tearing us further apart.”
“This week the Statue of Liberty lowered its torch in a presidential
action which repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality
that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern
refugees fleeing government oppression. We cannot and will not stand
silent,” he said in a statement Jan. 29.
Shortly after Trump signed the document at the Pentagon’s Hall of
Heroes, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the bishops
“strongly disagree” with the action to halt refugee resettlement.
“We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” Bishop Vasquez said.
The USCCB runs the largest refugee resettlement program in the United
States, and Bishop Vasquez said the church would continue to engage the
administration, as it had with administrations for 40 years.
“We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely
welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing
our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that
families may be reunified with their loved ones,” he said.
He also reiterated the bishops’ commitment to protect the most
vulnerable, regardless of religion. All “are children of God and are
entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to
resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as
Jesus has challenged us to do.”
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called attention to the USCCB
statement and the executive action and noted that “the legal situation
is still fluid and news reports are sometimes confusing.”
“The political debate, which is complex and emotionally highly
charged, will continue, but we must do our best to remain focused on the
pastoral and very real work we undertake every day for the vulnerable
and most in need … for the strangers at our doors,” he said.
Around the country, people gathered at airports to express solidarity
with immigrants and green card holders denied admission, including an
Iraqi who had helped the 101st Airborne during the Iraqi war. More than
550 people gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House Jan.
29 to celebrate Mass in solidarity with refugees.
In a letter to the president and members of Congress, more than 2,000
religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition
objected to the action.
In a separate statement, Jesuit Refugee Services-USA said the
provisions of the executive action “violate Catholic social teaching
that calls us to welcome the stranger and treat others with the
compassion and solidarity that we would wish for ourselves.”
Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said: “Welcoming those in need is part of America’s DNA.
“Denying entry to people desperate enough to leave their homes, cross
oceans in tiny boats, and abandon all their worldly possessions just to
find safety will not make our nation safer. The United States is
already using a thorough vetting process for refugees — especially for
those from Syria and surrounding countries. CRS welcomes measures that
will make our country safer, but they shouldn’t jeopardize the safety of
those fleeing violence; should not add appreciable delay nor entail
unjust discrimination, ” he said.