Pic of Pope Francis reading a book

Open borders? Church leaders say “Si si!”; laity say “No no!”

Liberals, progressives and other “right-thinking people”, both within the Church and without, clutched their pearls or pectorals last June when the newly-elected Italian government dared to turn away a boatload of “refugees” and asylum-seekers.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and his party, the League, campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform that also included a vow to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in Italy. They pointed to the example of Malta, which has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities. Over the past decade, the tiny island nation has reduced the number of migrants it has taken in, from a high of 2775 in 2008 to just 23 last year. All it takes is firmness.

Sgr Salvini pointed to Malta’s example when he accused the rest of western Europe of leaving Italy to deal with the “refugee” crisis on its own. He noted that other European countries are very much involved in current rescue operations in the Mediterranean, but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants.

Turning away a rescue ship, the MV Aquarius, Sgr Salvini said, in a Facebook post, “Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying.”… “This time we say no!”

That’s “NO!”, as in “NO to human trafficking” and “NO to the business of clandestine immigration.” Elsewhere, Sgr Salvini said, “Enough is enough! Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn’t. We’re closing the ports!”

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, disagrees. After a meeting with Italian president Sergio Mattarella in mid-July, the prelate was asked by a reporter about the government’s decisions to deny permission for debarkation to NGO vessels transporting migrants from North Africa to Italy. “We have already expressed our concerns,” he responded, adding that “closing ports is certainly not the solution.”

“Assisting the less fortunate and sharing knowledge is one of the most fruitful ways to support the development of peoples,” the Cardinal said. His words add to the growing opposition from Italian prelates to Sgr Salvini’s efforts to keep his campaign promises of dealing effectively to curb mass immigration to Italy.

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, recently declared that “the logic of Christianity” has always been “to welcome, accompany, integrate, as the Pope says, and certainly, if there is a ship that is at sea, you cannot close the ports, and certainly we cannot risk leaving people to die or putting them in a predicament.” (My emphasis. JWB)

But aren’t such policy matters to be decided by the government? Of course, of course, said the Cardinal, insisting he does not want to “interfere with government matters,” but is merely laying down “the thought of the Church [which] is that of the Samaritan, the parable of the good Samaritan and Jesus, where Jesus takes care of him. The logic of Christianity is to take care of people.”

Unfortunately, the thought of the Church, as expressed by the red hats, seems to be running counter to that of lay Catholics and many priests, even bishops, who have to deal with the consequences of unfettered immigration. See, for instance, “’Refugees’ Threaten to Cut the Throats of their Rescuers”, by Chris Ferrara, Fatima News & Views, 12/7/18.

Matteo Salvini, best known for his staunch opposition to unchecked mass migration, is the most trusted politician in Italy by a significant margin, in large part because he has faithfully acted on the promises he made during the election campaign.

Yet when he kept his promise by refusing to allow the MV Aquarius to dump its cargo on the shores of Italy, it was the Italian bishops who were at the forefront of the “no one is illegal!” protests.

Another Cardinal, Francesco Montenegro, Archbishop of Agrigento, preached a homily on July 1st in which he said, “It is Jesus coming to us on a vessel, he is in the man or child who drowns, it is Jesus who fishes through the garbage in search of a little food.”

While not all the clergy support open borders and not all lay Catholics are in favour of the government’s policies, the clerical voices receiving the most attention all seem to lean toward unchecked immigration, or, to give the phenomenon its proper name, “the Muslim invasion of Europe”. After all, that’s what the Pope wants!

The more the leaders of Holy Mother Church, whether in Europe or in America, invest their supposed prestige and moral capital in this eminently political issue, the more they risk being perceived as woefully out of touch with the realities lived by the rank-and-file members of their flocks.