Trump vs The Catholic Church? Bishops Lead Attack On New President's Flagship Policies

US President Donald Trump has drawn criticism from the Catholic Church.Reuters

The UK Catholic Church has a distinctly positive approach when it comes to immigrants, asylum seekers and sticking up for the underdog. Whether it's Catholic Bishops intervening during the last general election campaign to make the rare, domestic pro-refugee case, or highlighting the plight of Iraqi refugees on their annual trip to the Middle East, the Catholic hierarchy is not afraid to speak its mind.

Perhaps this is partly because of the make-up of the Church: step into Westminster Cathedral at any time of the day, and you'll see a picture of multi-cultural Britain.

Now, with Donald Trump at the helm, the Church in the melting pot that is the US is proving to be no different: it is taking a similarly robust approach despite a majority of Catholics having voted for Trump in last year's presidential election.

Yesterday, the president of the US Catholic Bishops' conference, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel Nicholas DiNardo, issued a powerfully worded statement condemning Trump's policies on the border wall with Mexico and halting migration and asylum from countries including Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya.

Doubtless encouraged by the famous condemnation by Pope Francis of the wall as "not Christian", the Cardinal said the it will put "lives in needless danger" and talked of the "pain, fear and heartache" of those who have come to the US.

"Today President Donald Trump made several announcements which deeply concern me," began Cardinal DiNardo. "...We have witnessed the pain, fear and heartache of people who have come to us, who have to live among us in the shadows of society. Many have suffered exploitation in the workplace, lived under the constant threat of deportation and bore the weight of the fear of possible separation from their family members and friends.

"As Archbishop of a Texas diocese, I believe that the order to construct a wall along our border with Mexico will only make migrants more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers – putting their lives in needless danger. It also destabilizes the many vibrant interconnected communities that live in peace along our border.

"The announced increase in immigrant detention space and immigration enforcement activities is alarming. It will tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities..."

Meanwhile, Jill Maria Gershutz-Bell, senior legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services, told the Catholic News Agency (CNA): "When we look at what's happening in Syria and the needs of 21 million refugees around the world, we think that this is our time as Catholics to be the Good Samaritan, regardless of what is expected of us from countries overseas."

She added: "It's our turn to show – or really, to maintain – our leadership in welcoming the lost and the least."

With the number of persons worldwide displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded at over 65 million, including over 21 million refugees, according to the United Nations' refugee office in a 2016 report, Gershutz-Bell said it is important to remember that refugees are already "victims".

Three countries have produced half the world's refugees, the UN has noted: Syria (4.9 million), Somalia (1.1 million), and Afghanistan (2.7 million). Two of those countries - Syria and Somalia - will be on Trump's visa ban list, according to reports.

"Pope Francis has been unequivocal about this, and the Catholic Church in the United States has been a leader in responding to refugees for really decades now. It's part of what it means to be Catholic," Gershutz-Bell told CNA.

Elsewhere, the Catholic University of America president John Garvey has called for "an immigration policy rooted in charity and hospitality."

"We should 'welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin,'" he added, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2241. "And nations should respect the natural right 'that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him'."

With the Democrats in disarray and Catholic voices growing against some of Trump's flagship policies, with an apparent green light from the Pope, the Church may yet end up being the new administration's main opposition.

As Christopher White, the Director of Catholic Voices USA tells Christian Today: "President Trump's policies on immigration are divisive. As Catholics, it's critical that we stand with immigrants and their families during this time and fight for more just policies that welcome and acknowledge the fact that immigrants have long been a part of the American story – and we're a better country for it."