Catholic bishops oppose ban on Muslim refugees

 |  NCR Today

A week after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from the United States, the head of the nation’s Catholic bishops issued a statement repudiating “the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the latest in a growing chorus of U.S. bishops, citing religious freedom concerns, who condemned the suggestion that Muslims be banned from the country. Kurtz did not mention Trump by name in his Dec. 14 statement that also calls for “responsible firearms regulation” in response to the recent shootings in at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs in which four were killed, including the shooter, and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif, in which two shooters, inspired by Islamic State, killed 14 people.

"Watching innocent lives taken and wondering whether the violence will reach our own families rightly stirs our deepest protective emotions. We must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination," wrote Kurtz. Instead, he said those emotions should be channeled "into a vibrant witness to the dignity of every person. We should employ immigration laws that are humane and keep us safe, but should never target specific classes of persons based on religion."

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston weighed in with both a warning against allowing terrorism to "instill prejudices and group hatred in people's hearts and minds," as well as data about Muslims in the United States. "While more than 5,000 Europeans have joined the Islamic State, fewer than 250 Americans are thought to have tried to, of whom it is estimated only two dozen succeed," he wrote in a Dec. 16 blog post in The Pilot.

He said that Muslims in the United States are "economically better off, better educated and much better integrated into the mainstream. And although Muslims comprise only 1 percent of our popuation, 10 percent of our doctors (20,000 in the United States are Muslim." He said his own Boston dentist is Iranian and Muslim.

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"We cannot afford to be sloppy about security," he wrote, "but we must guard against letting the darkness of hatred and prejudice poison our own hearts."

Other Catholic leaders earlier condemned trump's strategy, highlighting potential violations of religious liberty. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, during a Dec. 10 interview in Rome where he was attending an international conference on Christian persecution throughout the world, said Catholics could “not possibly countenance” restricting entry to the U.S. solely on the basis of religious affiliation. According to a Catholic News Service report, Lori was asked about the increasing climate of fear in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and said proposals like the one advanced by Trump raised “great religious freedom alarms.”

The idea of specifically barring Muslims “fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand,” said Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. His comment was contained in a Dec. 10 letter to his priests, according to a Religion News Service report.

“While the Catholic church refrains from weighing in for or against individual candidates for a particular political office. The church does and should speak to the morality of this important and far-reaching issue of religious liberty,” said Vigneron.

“Restricting or sacrificing these religious rights and liberties out of fear — instead of defending them and protecting them in the name of mutual respect and justice — is a rationalization which fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand,” he wrote.

In a more direct engagement with the state, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin defied the wishes of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who had asked that the archdiocese not resettle a Syrian family until Congress enacts new laws regarding immigration.

In a Dec. 8 posting on the archdiocese’s website, Tobin explained that he had “listened to the governor’s concerns regarding security and prayerfully considered his request that we defer from welcoming them.” He said he informed the governor prior to the family’s arrival in the state “that I had asked the staff of Catholic Charities to receive this husband, wife and their two small children as planned.”

He explained that the family fled the violence of Syria three years ago, had undergone two years of “extensive security checks and personal interviews” and had been approved by the US. government to enter the country.

Tobin did not cite the religious freedom issue, which has been a particular concern for some U.S. bishops, but rather raised the history of the church’s concern for those in need.

“For 40 years the archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition,” he said.

[Tom Roberts is NCR editor-at-large. His email address is troberts@ncronline.org.]

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