Pope lashes Trump over US policy on immigration

By Reuters Time of article published Jun 21, 2018

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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.

The pope said he supported recent statements by US 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.

In a rare, wide-ranging interview, the pope said he was optimistic about talks that might lead to a historic agreement over the appointment of bishops in China, and said he might accept more resignations of bishops 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 say 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 US President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, in which US authorities plan to criminally prosecute all immigrants caught crossing the Mexican border illegally, keeping the adults in jail, while their children are sent to government shelters.

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

US Catholic bishops have joined other religious leaders in condemning the policy.

“I am on the side of the bishops’ conference,” the pope said. “Let it be clear that in these things, I respect (the position of) the conference.”

Francis’s 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 US.

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 US crackdown chimes with a new political mood sweeping Western Europe over the large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers, mostly escaping conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

The pope said populists were “creating psychosis” on the issue of immigration, even as ageing societies like Europe faced “a great demographic winter” and needed more immigrants. Without immigration, Europe would “become empty”.

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 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 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 some day resign for reasons of health, as his predecessor Pope Benedict in 2013, but said: “Right now, I am not even thinking about it.”

He spoke at length about immigration, a controversial issue in Europe. The populist Italian government has refused port access to non-government ships 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 leader of the far-right-wing League party, has criticised the pope, once saying the pontiff should take in migrants in the Vatican if he was so concerned about them.

“I believe 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.”

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 added that 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”. - Reuters

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