Pope Francis Criticizes Trump’s ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Migrant Policy

Holy Father backs the U.S. bishops’ opposition to the separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

Pope Francis at his June 6 general audience.
Pope Francis at his June 6 general audience. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — In a new interview with Reuters, Pope Francis backed the U.S. bishops’ opposition to the separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border, calling the move “immoral” and “contrary to Catholic values.”

“I am on the side of the bishops’ conference,” the Pope said, referring to statements made by U.S. bishops.

Francis’ comment was made in reference to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration, which was rolled out in May and, among other things, enforces the separation of children from parents who have been detained by border officials.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, issued a statement during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ bi-annual meeting in Houston last week criticizing the enforcement of separating migrant families at the Mexican border, saying that “separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

He said later the bishops would consider the possibility of sending a delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to see the detention centers for themselves and offer solidarity for incoming migrants and refugees.

“Let it be clear that, in these things, I respect [the position of] the bishops’ conference,” Pope Francis said in the interview with Reuters.

When migrants arrive to a country, “you have to receive them, help them, look after them, accompany them and then see where to put them, but throughout all of Europe,” he said, noting that “some governments are working on it, and people have to be settled in the best possible way, but creating psychosis is not the cure.”

No full text of the interview was available; however, the Pope also touched on a variety of other issues, including the possibility of a deal with China on the appointment of bishops, the sexual-abuse scandal in Chile, the reform of the Roman Curia and the criticism he has faced.  

The conversation with Reuters marks the Pope’s first on-the-record interview with a major American news outlet.

During the two-hour conversation, which took place in his residence at the Vatican’s St. Marta guesthouse Sunday, Francis said the ongoing reform of the Vatican’s structures is going well, “but we have more work.”

In the latest reform move, the Pope’s “Council of Cardinals” in their meeting earlier this month finished the first draft of a new apostolic constitution outlining the role and structure of the Roman Curia titled Predicatae Evangelium.

Francis voiced satisfaction at the status of the Vatican’s financial reform, saying the Vatican Bank, which in the past lacked proper oversight and has now flagged and closed several suspicious accounts and transactions, “works well.”

Referring to criticism he has received throughout his papacy, the Pope said he prays for those who have said “nasty things” about him.

Referring to the dubia letter sent to him by four cardinals, including American Cardinal Raymond Burke, challenging him on excerpts of Chapter 8 of his 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope said he found out about the letter “from the newspaper.”

This, he said, is “a way of doing things that is, let’s say, not ecclesial, but we all make mistakes.” Using the analogy of a river, he said, “We have to be respectful and tolerant, and if someone is in the river, let’s move forward.”

On the Chilean abuse scandal, Pope Francis, who has already accepted the resignation of three bishops, including that of Juan Barros Madrid from the Diocese of Osorno, said he could accept more in the future.

He also voiced optimism about the Vatican’s ongoing discussion with China on the appointment of bishops, saying the discussions are “at a good point.”

Though he has been criticized for engaging China’s Communist Party for a deal that would give them a say on bishop appointments, Francis said that “dialogue is a risk, but I prefer risk rather than the certain defeat that comes with not holding dialogue.”

“As for the timing, some people say it’s ‘Chinese time.’ I say it’s God’s time. Let’s move forward serenely.”