Pope Francis today issued a statement telling Catholics, in part, that they can’t call themselves faithful if they oppose abortion, but refuse migrants. From Crux’s report:
In a move that is bound to enrage some of the pope’s most conservative critics, he doubled down on this issue, saying that the situation of immigrants is often presented as a lesser issue, with some Catholics considering it “a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.”
Quoting Matthew’s passage, Francis argued: “Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him?”
Holiness, Francis writes, is not about “swooning in mystic rapture,” but about following the Beatitudes and Matthew 25, which is a call to recognize Jesus in the poor and the suffering: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Jesus’ demands, the pope adds, are “uncompromising,” and as such, he sees it as his duty to ask Christians to accept them in a spirit of “genuine openness,” without any “ifs or buts.”
As if expecting that this point might be contested by some within his own fold, Francis says that “This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad,” quoting from the Book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, to further make his point: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Here is a link to the entire document, in English. The key parts:
102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ”, with a gesture of veneration; the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude”.
103. A similar approach is found in the Old Testament: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34). This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad. In today’s world too, we are called to follow the path of spiritual wisdom proposed by the prophet Isaiah to show what is pleasing to God. “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn” (58:7-8).
Okay, let’s take the Pope at his word. But before we do, let me warn you progressive readers who will inevitably say, “But you traditional Catholics say the Pope is infallible, and now you’re saying he’s wrong!” First of all, I’m not a Catholic. More importantly, this document is an “apostolic exhortation,” which is not a doctrinal statement. It does not carry the same weight as an encyclical. Please keep that in mind when you comment.
So, Pope Francis is not only a religious leader, but is also the ruler of a sovereign state, Vatican City. If he really believes what he is saying, let him open the gates of Vatican to as many migrants as want to come. Let him offer permanent residency to them, and provide them and their families with financial assistance.
What do you suppose would happen? Before long, Vatican City would not be able to function according to its purposes. What then?
The Vatican has the moral right to decide who gets to be a part of its community. Though it is certainly fair and necessary for the members of that community (in this case, those who live in Vatican City) to discuss and debate where the line is to be drawn over who is to be welcomed, and who is not to be welcomed, no serious person denies that lines must be drawn. This is perfectly normal.
This is why St. Benedict’s rule of hospitality is not open-ended. Monks will certainly welcome guests as if they were Christ, but that welcome does not imply that visitors have the right to stay in the monastery for as long as they like. What’s more, monks cannot welcome guests who, whether by their behavior or their sheer numbers, prevent a monastery from fulfilling its purpose. No stranger has a right to expect the monks to abandon their way of life to accommodate his desires. It’s simply dishonest and manipulative for the Pope to invoke St. Benedict’s example in this way. One likes to think that even Pope Francis would not expect a monastery to fling its gates open and house as many migrants as want to set up camp there, indefinitely.
Note too that the Pope is not speaking in his apostolic exhortation about refugees from war or famine:
That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.
He is talking about economic migrants. The only proper attitude, according to the Pope, is to let them in. There is no room for discussion, for weighing pros and cons, nothing. Only opening the borders, or one is un-Christian.
When I was in Hungary and the Czech Republic recently, I met quite a few Catholics who were upset with the Pope over this attitude. They quite rightly grasp that to open their borders would put their nations at grave risk. In 2001, Pope John Paul II wrote that the mercy of hospitality is to be guided by prudential judgment:
Certainly, the exercise of such a right [to migrate] is to be regulated, because practicing it indiscriminately may do harm and be detrimental to the common good of the community that receives the migrant.
I was listening this morning to the new Mars Hill Audio Journal interview with the political theologian Oliver O’Donovan. O’Donovan says that the common good includes maintaining the ability for a community to pass on its values to future generations. This is very much what Hungarians and Czechs worry about with unfettered migration from outside of Europe into Europe. It is remarkable how little concern at all Francis shows for this, as if the only reason for concern on the part of these peoples is selfishness and heresy (“gnosticism” or “pelagianism”). We know how this pope feels about migrants. What, though, is the obligation Christians have to their families and to their neighbors within their own countries?
If you are a European Christian, you are living in a post-Christian, unbelieving society (the Poles are an exception), a society in which your children will face great hardship in practicing the faith, and their children’s children may have an even more difficult time. How should you regard flinging to doors open wide to Muslim migrants, who are bearers of an alien religion and culture? The Pope gives no guidance, except to imply that you are a bad Christian for asking that question (“the only proper attitude”).
When Pope Francis invites migrants to turn St. Peter’s Square into a permanent camp, then he will be true to his principles, and lead by example. If he won’t do that, then he and his supporters should reflect on why he’s not doing so, and what it might say about his own sentimentalism and double standards.
Anyway, I cannot grasp why the claim an economic migrant makes on a nation, asking it to grant him the right to live there, as he desires to do, is on the same moral level as the claim an unborn child makes on the community: to permit him the right to live, period.