Pope criticises Trump administration policy on migrant family separation

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VATICAN CITY, June 20 – Pope Francis has
criticised the Trump administration’s policy of separating
migrant families at the Mexican border, saying populism is not
the answer to the world’s immigration problems.

Speaking to Reuters, the Pope said he supported recent
statements by U.S. Catholic bishops who called the separation of
children from their parents “contrary to our Catholic values”
and “immoral”.

“It’s not easy, but populism is not the solution,” Francis
said on Sunday night.

In a rare, wide-ranging interview, the pope said he was
optimistic about talks that may lead to a historic agreement
over the appointment of bishops in China, and said he may accept
more bishops’ resignations over a sexual abuse scandal in Chile.

Reflecting at his Vatican residence on his five years as
pope, he defended his leadership of the Roman Catholic Church
against criticism by conservatives inside and outside the Church
who says his interpretation of its teachings is too liberal.

He also said he wanted to appoint more women to top
positions in the Vatican administration.

One of his most pointed messages concerned President Donald
Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, in which the U.S.
authorities plan to criminally prosecute all immigrants caught
crossing the Mexican border illegally, holding adults in jail
while their children are sent to government shelters.

The policy has caused an outcry in the United States and has
been condemned abroad as videos emerged of youngsters held in
concrete-floored enclosures and an audio of wailing children
went viral.

U.S. Catholic bishops have joined other religious leaders in
the United States in condemning the policy.

“I am on the side of the bishops’ conference,” the pope
said, referring to two statements from U.S. bishops this month.

“Let it be clear that in these things, I respect (the
position of) the bishops conference.”

Francis’ comments add to the pressure on Trump over
immigration policy. The pope heads a church which has 1.3
billion members worldwide and is the largest Christian
denomination in the United States.

The president has strongly defended his administration’s
actions and cast blame for the family separations on Democrats.

“Democrats are the problem,” Trump said on Twitter on
Tuesday. “They don’t care about crime and want illegal
immigrants.”

The U.S. crackdown chimes with a new political mood sweeping
western Europe over the large numbers of migrants and
asylum-seekers, most of them escaping conflict and poverty in
the Middle East and Africa.

The pope said populists were “creating psychosis” on the
issue of immigration, even as aging societies like Europe faced
“a great demographic winter” and needed more immigrants.

Without immigration, he added, Europe “will become empty.”

 

CHURCH’S FUTURE “ON THE STREET”

Since assuming the papacy in 2013, Francis has promoted a
liberal interpretation of Catholic teachings at a time when
politics in many parts of the West have shifted towards economic
nationalism.

He has faced internal opposition from the conservative clergy
who oppose his liberal interpretations, especially his approach
to sexuality and showing mercy towards divorced Catholics. But
the pope said he prayed for conservatives who sometimes said
“nasty things” about him.

Defending his leadership, the 81-year-old Argentine pontiff
said the future of the Catholic Church was “on the street”.

He said he wanted to appoint more women to head the Vatican
departments because they were better at resolving conflicts,
though this should not lead to what he called “masculinism in a
skirt”.

The pope said his health was good apart from leg pain
related to a back condition. He reiterated comments first made
shortly after his election that he may someday resign for
reasons of health as his predecessor, Pope Benedict, did in
2013, but said: “Right now, I am not even thinking about it.”

He spoke at length about immigration, a controversial issue
in Europe as well as the United States. The populist Italian
government has refused port access to non-government ships that
have been rescuing asylum-seekers trying to cross to Italy from
Africa in flimsy boats.

One ship was forced to disembark more than 600 migrants in
Spain at the weekend.

Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who is also
the leader of the far-right-wing League party has criticised the
pope in the past, once saying the pontiff should take in
migrants in the Vatican if he was so concerned about them.

“I believe that you cannot reject people who arrive. You
have to receive them, help them, look after them, accompany them
and then see where to put them but throughout all of Europe,”
Francis said.

“Some governments are working on it, and people have to be
settled in the best possible way, but creating psychosis is not
the cure,” he added. “Populism does not resolve things. What
resolves things is acceptance, study, prudence.”

 

SOME STRUGGLES AND TOUGH DECISIONS

Francis said he was saddened by Trump’s decision last year
to implement new restrictions on American travel and trade with
Cuba. The move rolled back his predecessor President Barack
Obama’s opening to the island nation. That deal, which the
Vatican helped broker, “was a good step forward”, the pope said.

He also said Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris
agreement to curb climate change caused him “a bit of pain
because the future of humanity is at stake”. The pope said he
hoped Trump would re-think his position.

Rejecting criticism that he is at risk of selling out
Chinese Catholics loyal to the Vatican, Francis said talks to
resolve a dispute over the appointment of bishops in China – an
obstacle to resuming diplomatic ties – were “at a good point”.

The pope has accepted the resignations of three bishops in
Chile over the sexual abuse scandal there and allegations that
it was covered up. He said he could accept more resignations but
did not say which bishop or bishops he had in mind.

The pope also commented on internal criticism of his papacy
by conservatives, led by American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

In 2016, Burke and three other cardinals issued a rare
public challenge to Francis over some of his teachings in a
major document on the family, accusing him of sowing
disorientation and confusion on important moral issues.

Francis said he had heard about the Cardinals’ letter
criticising him “from the newspapers … a way of doing things
that is, let’s say, not ecclesial, but we all make mistakes”.

He borrowed the analogy of a late Italian cardinal who
likened the Church to a flowing river, with room for different
views. “We have to be respectful and tolerant, and if someone is
in the river, let’s move forward,” he said.

He said reform of the Vatican administration, the Curia, was
going well “but we have to work more”. The pope once criticised
Curia careerists as having “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.

Francis said he was mostly happy about reforms enacted to
make once-scandalous Vatican finances more transparent. The
Vatican bank, which closed hundreds of suspicious or dormant
accounts, “now works well”, he said.

“There have been some struggles and I have had to make some
strong decisions,” he said.

 -(Reuters)