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LA religious leaders opine unwisely on order

Religious leaders face a central challenge in converting articles of faith to everyday practice in politics. Unfortunately, some of these individuals in Louisiana recently flunked that test in evaluating travel restrictions ordered by Pres. Donald Trump.

The executive order temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process, then caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year; imposes a temporary, 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – “countries of concern” identified by the former Pres. Barack Obama Administration as threats to attempt to export terrorism to the U.S.; and puts an indefinite hold on admitting Syrian refugees to the United States until the Trump Administration confirms that refugee admission procedures do not threaten U.S. security. It applies no religious test and allows significant exceptions for individuals from religious sects undergoing persecution and for individuals who entry would serve the national interest.

In substance, even as in details some significant differences exist, policy promulgated by the order differs little from Obama Administration policy until two years ago. Before 2015, almost no Syrian refugees came into the U.S. annually, large numbers of refugees did not attempt to come to the U.S. after spending extended periods in countries with jihadist conflict zones, and the number of refugees admitted per year was around the 50,000 level. In 2016, enhanced vetting began regarding the seven countries.

The order also tracks a 2011 180-day ban by Obama on refugees from Iraq. Both follow the same concept: given the volume of attempted or actual attempts terrorist attacks at the time that resulted in injury or deaths from individuals that at one point went through the visa process, reliability of vetting seemed questionable enough that a period of review appeared in order. There is nothing imprudent or discriminatory about any of this.

Yet a proper understanding of it all seemed lost upon at least two Louisiana religious leaders. At a rally full of partisan politicians and special interests who oppose ideologically the new president, they spoke against the order, unfortunately making incorrect inferences concerning it to their religious beliefs.

Rabbi Alexis Berk of New Orleans’ Touro Synagogue called Trump's order an “unacceptable case of pure prejudice,” relating that to lackadaisical responses to pogroms against Jews. But if anything pure exists in this context, it’s her ignorance: again, nothing in the order places any religious test on the refugee ban nor travelers from the seven countries – it covers everyone regardless of religious views except for restating the ability to grant the exception already written into law that gives preference to refugees fleeing religious persecution.

Archdiocese of New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond also weighed in, alleging that the Trump administration's actions on immigration “do not support our Catholic principles …. We have never advocated to open our borders indiscriminately, but we are called to live out this teaching with open hearts and to accompany those who are lawfully seeking a new life in a new land without discriminating by race, creed or religion.”

Aymond also egregiously errs by imputing any discrimination to the order. Worse, he confusedly misapplies Catholic doctrine on the question of refugees. Two referents in the Catechism of the Catholic Church apply in this instance.

Catholics are called to seek “a universal common good,” which “calls for an organization of the community of nations able to provide for the different needs of men” that includes “alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.” Note, however, that technically the Catechism here refers to the ecclesiastical document Gaudium et spies, which actually vests this duty of individuals to be performed through international organizations, not states.

However, “the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members.” As noted, the order seeks stability and security through morally acceptable means, and if Aymond did not think so in the past, why did he not raise objections to the Obama ban in 2011 or refugee policy in general throughout most of Obama’s presidency, as neither differed conceptually from what Trump has put forward now, only now larger in scope as the problem has increased in degree?

Regrettably, Aymond’s judgment on matters of applying faith to the real world has failed in the past. Before leaving for Austin for his first bishopric posting and after his return to take the helm in New Orleans, he erred with reckless behavior regarding priests alleged and convicted of abusing children. Additionally, he needlessly opposed establishing a national database that would list all priests credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor. He also effectively banned from Austin Catholic radio broadcasts of the Eternal Word Television Network founder the late Mother Angelica, lauded by Church luminaries for her broadcast evangelization, because he didn’t like her tone.

Pronouncements such as those made by Berks and Aymond do a disservice to the faithful striving for clarity on this issue, and Louisianans must pray that increased wisdom comes to these leaders.

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