On January 27, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order intended to protect the nation from the entry of foreign terrorists into the United States. The Order imposed a temporary ban on entry to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq and Syria. A just-released Rasmussen poll showed that 57% of likely voters supported the idea of a temporary ban on immigration from political hotspots, while only 33% opposed it.
But not so, the American bishops. As faithful shepherds who carry the gospel message to Catholics and the American people, many bishops have issued statements emphasizing the need for mercy and compassion. With their pledge to “welcome the stranger,” they opposed President Trump’s temporary ban, fearing that refugees were in danger and could not find safety on American soil.
The USCCB released a statement expressing solidarity with Muslims and expressing deep concern about religious freedom issues. The statement – which is co-signed by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski (chairman of the USCCB’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee), Bishop William Lori (chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty), and Bishop Oscar Cantú ( Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace) – regrets that Friday night’s Executive Order has caused fear and anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others, and states:
“…we join other religious leaders in once again standing in solidarity with those affected by this Order, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers. We also express our firm resolve that the Order’s stated preference for “religious minorities” should be applied to protect not only Christians where they are a minority, but all religious minorities who face persecution, which includes Yazidis, Shia Muslims in Sunni-majority areas, and vice versa .
While we also recognize that the United States government has a duty to protect the safety of its people, we must nonetheless employ means that respect both religious freedom for all and the urgency to protect the lives of those who desperately fleeing violence and persecution. It is our conviction as followers of the Lord Jesus that welcoming the stranger and protecting the vulnerable are at the heart of Christian life. And so, to our Muslim brothers and sisters and all believers, we stand with you and welcome you.
Some bishops have also felt called to address the issue.
On Twitter, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich called the imposition of a temporary travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries a “dark moment in US history.”
Speaking at a Mass at Regina Dominican Secondary School in Wilmette, Cardinal Cupich told students they must “…take care of all, whether unborn, homeless or doomed” , and the cardinal added to this list “the refugee who is now being kept out of our country due to an executive decree.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark, also opposed it — calling the United States an “open and welcoming nation.” President Trump’s action, the cardinal said, demonstrated irrational fear, prejudice and persecution. In a statement on the archdiocese’s website, Cardinal Tobin wrote:
“Closing borders and erecting walls are not rational acts. Mass detentions and mass deportations benefit no one; such inhumane policies destroy families and communities.
In fact, threatening so-called “sanctuary cities” with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as health care, education and transportation will not reduce immigration. This will only harm all the good people in these communities.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, expressed concern that humanitarian concerns still need to be addressed, even as the government seeks to protect American citizens. Cardinal Wuerl said:
“As the federal government pursues any legitimate national security concerns, we hope it does so not at the expense of innocent people who are in need, and that it takes all necessary steps to ensure their safety is met. protected and expedite all processes to meet the need for humanitarian assistance…
Through our immigrant and refugee outreach programs, we must continue to serve as a visible sign of God’s mercy and our solidarity with our brothers and sisters, no matter how far we travel.
Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism: A Different Perspective
But Saint Thomas Aquinas seems to approach the question of immigration from a different angle. In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas was careful to divide relations with foreigners into two categories: peaceful and hostile. Among peaceful relations, he identified three types of encounters that Jews could have with strangers who entered their lands:
- Sometimes foreigners simply passed through their country as travellers;
- Foreigners came to inhabit their land as newcomers. In Exodus 22:21 and again in Exodus 22:9, the Law protected the rights of newcomers, warning “Thou shalt not molest a stranger”; and
- When a stranger wished to be fully admitted into their community and worship. In this case, the newcomer should not be automatically admitted to citizenship. Immigrants from some countries were not to be granted citizenship for two or three generations.
“The reason for this,” wrote Thomas Aquinas,
“…was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle in the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled within it, many dangers might arise, for foreigners not yet having the common good at heart might attempt something harmful to people.”
Thomas Aquinas taught that the full integration of immigrants into life, language, customs, and culture was necessary for full citizenship.
While the law prescribed means by which residents of some nations (the Egyptians, the Idumeans, the children of Esau, the brother of Jacob) were to be admitted to communion after the third generation, others (such as the Ammonites and the Moabites) were never to be admitted. to citizenship, because the people of those lands had been hostile towards the Jews. The Amalekites, who had been even more hostile and had no kinship with the Jewish community, were never to be admitted and were to be considered enemies in perpetuity.
And relevant to our situation today: Because of the urgent need to protect the Jewish community, no distinction is made in Scripture between belligerent members of the Amalekite community and others who may be peaceful.
the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks even more clearly of the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens, even when welcoming the stranger. It is sometimes reported that the teaching of the Catholic Church requires an open border policy whereby immigrants can enter the country without restriction. In fact, however, there are important qualifiers that must be taken into account.
According to Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2241 The most prosperous nations are obliged, as far as they can, welcome the foreigner in search of security and means of subsistence which he does not find in his country of origin. The public authorities must see to it that the natural law which places a guest under the protection of those who welcome him is respected.
Thus, a nation is not required to accept an unlimited number of immigrants, which would place a burden on its own citizens – but we should be generous in accepting immigrants within our means. And the decision about how many immigrants a nation can support should rest, not with the Church and the clergy – who are warm and seek to bring the love of Christ to all, but who may lack understanding of political realities – but to lay people who are familiar with the boundaries of community and who can most effectively integrate the teaching of the Church into the practice of society.
the Catechism keep on going:
The political authorities, in the interest of the common good for which they are responsible, can make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various legal conditions, in particular with regard to the duties of immigrants towards their adopted country.
This is not wrong, according to the Catechismto impose restrictions — such as President Trump’s 60-90 day moratorium on immigration from certain areas — while plans can be enacted to ensure the safety and well-being of the American people.
Finally, the Catechism recognizes that immigrants should only be welcomed if they are willing to obey our laws.
Immigrants are required to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the host country, obey his laws and to help carry civic charges.
The presidential decree
President Trump, in issuing his executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entering the United States,” echoes the need for protections that is defined in the Catechism:
Many foreign-born people have been convicted of or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States on visitor, student, or work, or who entered through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Deteriorating conditions in some countries due to war, conflict, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States. The United States must be vigilant during the visa issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and have no connection to terrorism.
In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not hold hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot and must not admit those who do not support the Constitution or those who would place violent ideologies above American law. Further, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hate (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender or sexual orientation.
President Trump’s executive order will not only impose a travel ban on nationals of countries known to export terrorists. Additionally, the OE is suspending the refugee admissions program for 120 days and prioritizing refugee claims for religious persecution, giving higher priority to Christian refugees who may be trying to flee a brutal regime. It also limits entry to a maximum of 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017.
Once America is assured that controls are in place and refugees seeking to enter the United States can be properly vetted, we can again open our arms, “welcome the stranger” while protecting our citizens.