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WASHINGTON (CNS)—President Donald J. Trump’s executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States brought an outcry from Catholic leaders across the U.S.
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.
“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,” said Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich in a Jan. 29 statement.
“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.
The executive action 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.
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.”
In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities said he was “deeply saddened” by President Trump’s executive action.
“The Catholic Church has welcomed immigrants and refugees to the United States throughout its history,” David Bethuram said. “We stand united with the other Catholic Charities in the United States in embracing Pope Francis’ urging of not closing the door on migrants and refugees.
“Through both Catholic education and Catholic Charities, the Church has integrated generations of immigrants and refugees into American culture. Our commitment to care for those who are most vulnerable is a cornerstone of our faith.”
Refugee and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities Indianapolis resettled 676 refugees in 2016, providing support that includes housing, food, clothing and job readiness classes. Bethuram said the archdiocese hopes to continue those efforts.
“At this point, we do not know what effect this will have on the work of our local ministry outreach efforts within the immigrant and refugee communities,” he said.
“We will continue to work closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services in how to best serve those who are presently here, and those who will be resettling here in the future. We are always grateful for the support of so many in our community who stand with us.”
Bethuram said the archdiocese respects “that safety needs to be addressed, but not through an order like this that will do more harm than good.
“Welcoming migrants, immigrants and refugees reflects not only our Catholic tradition, but also our biblical tradition to welcome the stranger. This also includes embracing all who are vulnerable from many faiths.”
Shortly after Trump signed the document at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB’s 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 operates 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.
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.”
“The political debate, which is complex and emotionally highly charged, will continue,” Cardinal Wuerl noted. “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.”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, previously the archbishop of Indianapolis from 2012-16, stated that Trump’s executive actions represent “the opposite of what it means to be an American.”
“This nation has a long and rich history of welcoming those who have sought refuge because of oppression or fear of death,” Cardinal Tobin said. “The Acadians, French, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Vietnamese are just a few of the many groups whom we have welcomed and helped to find a better, safer life for themselves and their children in America.
“Even when such groups were met by irrational fear, prejudice and persecution, the signature benevolence of the United States of America eventually triumphed. That confident kindness is what has made, and will continue to make, America great.”
Around the country, people gathered at airports—including the Indianapolis International Airport—on Jan. 29 to express solidarity with immigrants and refugees.
More than 550 people gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House on 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.
Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), said: “Welcoming those in need is part of America’s DNA.
“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.”
(John Shaughnessy, assistant editor of The Criterion, contributed to this report.) †