If the American bishops seem especially concerned about the rights of refugees, there is a good historical reason. In the aftermath of World War II, with Europe devastated and huge populations on the move, the bishops lobbied for the US government to accept more refugees. They also began to initiate a huge network to resettle those who arrived.
In 1948, the Displaced Persons Act became law, and Pope Pius XII wrote to the bishops to affirm their stance. “The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people,” Pius told them. “For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all.”
That may help to explain why Catholics were so prominent among the critics of Donald Trump’s executive order last week. The order is a temporary measure, which for 90 days will halt immigration from seven countries (including Syria) previously identified as terrorism risks. It also prioritises victims of religious persecution, and halves 2017’s refugee total to 50,000.
Catholics can hardly be unconcerned by the issues raised here – “oppression of the poor” is one of the “four sins that cry to heaven”, and the Catechism specifies mistreatment of needy foreigners as one aspect of it.
And for many Catholic leaders, the Trump order was appalling – “a dark moment in US history”, as Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago put it.
The US bishops’ committee on migration “strongly disagreed” with the order, according to its chairman, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin. “Welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” he said.
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