Cardinal Cupich: Trump’s refugee ban “a dark moment in U.S. history”

Posted on Jan 31, 2017

by Michael O’Loughlin | America Jesuit Review | January 29. 2017

Catholic leaders in the United States are reacting with anger to President Donald J. Trump’s newly signed executive order that bars Syrian refugees from entering the country and halts resettlement programs for up to four months and are urging him to reconsider the policy.

“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history,” Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a statement on Jan. 29. “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.”

Signed by Mr. Trump on Friday afternoon, the executive order stops all refugee resettlement for four months and bars refugees from Syria from entering the United States indefinitely. Further, residents of seven predominantly Muslim nations cannot enter the United States for 90 days.

By Saturday night, several federal judges temporarily blocked parts of the order so that travelers being detained in U.S. airports by border patrol agents could enter the country. On Sunday morning, the Trump administration suggested that the order was being amended so that greencard holders would be allowed to reenter the United States.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that aired this weekend, Mr. Trump suggested that Christian refugees would be given priority over people of other faiths, including Muslims.

The president tweeted that sentiment from his personal account on Sunday.

But many Christian leaders, including Catholics, rejected the notion that Christians undergoing persecution should be given priority over others being persecuted for their faith, such as Muslims suffering from violence at the hands of other Muslims.

“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,” Cardinal Cupich said. “They make an exception for Christians and non-Muslim minorities, but not for Muslims refugees fleeing for their lives.”

“The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values,” he continued.

Over the weekend, thousands of people protested at airports across the country, demanding that people being denied entry into the United States because of their immigration status be allowed through and calling on Mr. Trump to abolish the order.

A crowd gathered in front of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Saturday night chanted “Let them in,” a show of support to the 18 people being held by homeland security officials inside the airport.

Homeland security officials said that more than 375 people had been immediately affected by the executive order, with 173 not being allowed to board planes abroad traveling to the United States and the rest with about half being detained in U.S. airports.

Holding a sign quoting Jesus that read “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” in front of the Chicago’s airport on Saturday night, Caitlin Fitz said she was protesting to stand up for the rights of those being detained.

“I’m sickened at the developments of the last week,” Ms. Fitz told America. “I think that Jesus would not have supported this kind of a ban. The bible can speak for itself.”

By Saturday night, all those being detained inside O’Hare, including an 18-month-old baby, had been released.

Concerns about how the ban could affect international students led the president of the University of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, to release a statement Sunday calling the order “sweeping, indiscriminate and abrupt.”

“If it stands, it will over time diminish the scope and strength of the educational and research efforts of American universities, which have been the source not only of intellectual discovery but of economic innovation for the United States and international understanding for our world,” he continued.

Some Christians have cited concerns over the executive order in terms of religious liberty.

For example, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who heads the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious liberty, told The Baltimore Sun that the order was “a step backward” for religious liberty.

“From a religious liberty perspective, it’s very difficult and questionable to come as close as the order does to singling out a particular religion,” he said.

On Friday, hours before the executive order was announced, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin published a statement in which he said his archdiocese was planning to resettle 51 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A spokesman for the archdiocese told America on Jan. 29 that the refugees are scheduled to arrive in March and that the local Catholic Charities agency is continuing to prepare for their arrival.

“The cardinal sent a letter out on Friday to parishes and schools to ask for donations of materials and we’ve got people who volunteered to make the program work,” Jim Goodness said. “There’s a lot that’s very fluid right now but we intend to proceed as long we as we can.”

Several Catholic leaders reacted to the executive order by affirming that the United States government has an obligation to protect its citizens and secure its borders, but suggested that the new policy would make the nation less secure.

“Our elected officials have an obligation to protect the security of the American people, and we should all take concerns about security seriously,” Sean Callahan, head of Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement on Jan. 27. “But, 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.”

That concern was also present in Cardinal Cupich’s statement.

“These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life. They lower our estimation in the eyes of the many peoples who want to know America as a defender of human rights and religious liberty, not a nation that targets religious populations and then shuts its doors on them,” he said.

“It is time to put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity,” Cardinal Cupich said.

The clash between some Catholic leaders and the Trump administration over the refugee ban was just the latest interaction between church and state during the president’s first week in office.

Mr. Trump signed a flood of executive orders on everything from reinstating a ban on federal money used for abortion overseas (cheered by some bishops) to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (jeered by others.)

And the rush of news shows no signs of letting up: Reports say that the president may announce his nominee for the Supreme Court as early as Jan. 30 rather than Feb. 2 as previously planned.

In response to all the news of the week, a group of Catholics in the nation’s capital turned to prayer.

On Sunday afternoon, several hundred of them gathered for an outdoor Mass in front of the White House to pray for those affected by the executive order.

“We wanted to show solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who will be most affected by this executive order and it felt appropriate to have a distinctly Catholic response,” Emily Conron, one of the event organizers, told America.

She said the Gospel readings for Sunday, in which Jesus preaches the beatitudes, were fitting for the public Mass.

“In the end, in the final calculus, it’s not the powerful who will be rewarded, it’s the weak,” she said. “And we will be judged on how we treated the weak.”

* Michael O’Loughlin is America’s national correspondent.