Catholics for Open Borders? That Isn’t What John Paul II Taught

Pope Francis visited the Italian port city of Bari last week, where he once again made a number of strong statements in support of the seemingly never-ending flux of migrants into Europe.

Although the Holy Father had some laudable words in favor of peace and collaboration among the disparate peoples and cultures that border the Mediterranean Sea, the crux of his remarks was a barbed attack at Western countries, such as Hungary and Italy, which have tried to protect their cultures and identity as waves of migrants—aided and abetted by corrupt EU bureaucrats—overrun and transform Europe.

Linking contemporary European populists with the Nazi and Fascist movements of the last centuries, Francis said, “I feel fear when I hear some discourses of some leaders of the new forms of populism, it brings to mind speeches that sowed fear and then hate in the decade of the 1930s of the last century.”

Unfortunately, the Holy Father here appears to conflate the likes of Victor Orbán and Matteo Salvini, leaders simply seeking to preserve the national identity of their countries through halting immigration, with National Socialists in the Third Reich who were responsible for the extermination of millions of people.

By restricting immigration, Pope Francis said,

we cut ourselves off from the richness brought by others, which always represents an opportunity for growth. When we reject the desire for fellowship present deep within the human heart and is part of the history of peoples, we stand in the way of the unification of the human family, which despite many challenges, continues to advance.

His Holiness here seems to conflate the Christian mandate to preach the Gospel to all nations and the task of creating a global unity of faith with the political and cultural merger of the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. This he calls “unification of the human family.”

Sadly, these statements are nothing new for the current occupant of the Holy See.

Indeed, as many conservative and traditional Catholics have noted, Pope Francis has spent much more time during his pontificate cheering on left-wing social causes than he has preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As people inside and outside the Church have recognized, many of Pope Francis’s messages seem largely out of step with those of his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

John Paul II often made pleas for the humane treatment of migrants. He condemned xenophobia and racism. Nevertheless, the sainted pope also made a number of commonsense and arguably populist statements about the legitimacy of nations maintaining their borders and identities.

In his 1996 message on the “World Day of Migration,” the late Polish pontiff flatly stated that “illegal immigration should be prevented.” When a country cannot make accommodations for illegal immigrants, that country had the right to make illegal immigrants “return to their own country.”

In 2004, John Paul II made it clear that “obviously the task of Governments [is] to regulate the migratory flows . . . .” This regulation would take account of “the dignity of the persons and for their families’ needs,” but would further be “mindful of the requirements of the host societies.”

It is this twofold character of the Church’s teaching on migration that is often forgotten in left-wing Catholic discourse, which, unfortunately today at least appears to come from the very mouth of the successor of St. Peter.

Clearly, throughout history and even up until today, there have been emergency situations in which humans have been forced to migrate to a host country.

The Catholic Church, however, has always taught that the host country is not required to sacrifice its own wellbeing and common good to accommodate an unlimited flow of migrants.

While Christians in particular, as well as conservatives and patriots in general, have the duty to condemn any form of racial hatred as well as any violence directed toward immigrants, it is not Catholic Church teaching that countries must open their borders to all comers.

In fact, it is the perennial teaching of Catholicism that patriotism and pious respect for one’s culture and kinsmen is a Christian duty.

As a result, contrary to the claims of contemporary leftists, many (but, of course not all), populist parties are the true advocates of a coherent and solid Christian teaching on migration.

About Jesse B. Russell

Jesse B. Russell is a native of Livingston, Montana and has written for a variety of scholarly and popular journals including, Front Porch Republic, The Claremont Review of Books Digital, Touchstone Magazine, The American Spectator, and Crisis.

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