Catholic leaders, including prominent archbishops and a group of sisters, are condemning President Trump’s derogatory description of African countries and calling on the U.S. government to take steps to protect migrants.
A group of more than 2,900 Catholic sisters said they find it “appalling” that the president used “vulgar and offensive language to describe Haiti, El Salvador and countries in Africa.”
“Sisters of Mercy are present in many of the countries President Trump categorized as ‘shitholes,’” the sisters said in a statement. “We welcome immigrants and refugees from these countries in our schools, churches, healthcare institutions and other ministries. We take offense to this description of these lands and of their thoughtful, loving and passionate people. No home of our brothers and sisters, not coincidentally here our brothers and sisters of color, should be dismissed in this manner by the leader of our country.”
“As a vigorous debate continues over the future of immigration, we must always be sure to avoid language that can dehumanize our brothers and sisters.”
Mr. Trump’s comments came during an Oval Office meeting on Thursday when he questioned why the United States should accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to one participant and people briefed on the conversation. The president denied using certain “language,” but a Democratic lawmaker in the meeting said the accounts were accurate.
An adviser to Pope Francis and the leader of the Archdiocese of Boston, which is home to a large number of Haitian Catholics, also expressed concern about the rhetoric being used in the immigration debate—though he did not call out the president by name.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley wrote in a blog post on Friday that he has ministered to “people from many lands who came to the United States to share their lives, their culture and their faith with American society,” an experience he said has been “filled with a spirit which is so different from the tenor and language of much of the debate about immigration in our country today.”
“At times it is harsh, not welcoming and deeply suspicious,” he continued. “But, while I am optimistic about our country, there are institutions and individual voices with the capacity to distort the reputation of this country in the eyes of world.
“As a nation, a sovereign state, we expect to be respected by others. That respect must be reciprocated by us towards others—individuals, countries and cultures,” he wrote.
Another cardinal highlighted the role Haitians played in the founding of his city and offered a twist on Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
On Friday, Cardinal Blase Cupich tweeted: “Grateful for Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, ‘Founder of Chicago’—and Haitian immigrant. We are a nation of immigrants, who have made America great. We continue to be enriched by the gifts they bring to our shores.”
Grateful for Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, “Founder of Chicago”—and Haitian immigrant. We are a nation of immigrants, who have made America great. We continue to be enriched by the gifts they bring to our shores.— Cardinal Cupich (@CardinalBCupich) January 12, 2018
Earlier on Friday, the Vatican’s newspaper called the president’s remarks “harsh” and “offensive.” Later, a senior official for the U.S. bishops conference released a statement highlighting the racial elements of Mr. Trump’s comments.
“Reports of recent disparaging remarks about African countries and Haiti have aroused great concern. As our brothers and sisters from these countries are primarily people of color, these alleged remarks are especially disturbing,” said James Rogers, the chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and comments that denigrate nations and peoples violate that fundamental truth and cause real pain to our neighbors.”
Mr. Rogers called it “regrettable” that the story came as the nation commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. and lamented that it “could distract from the urgent bipartisan effort to help Dreamers and those with Temporary Protected Status.”
“As a vigorous debate continues over the future of immigration, we must always be sure to avoid language that can dehumanize our brothers and sisters,” he concluded.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski took to Twitter to express his thoughts about the controversy. The Miami archbishop, who has worked with Haitians living in the United States for years and who has visited the nation several times following its devastating 2010 earthquake, published two tweets about immigration on Friday:
On Tuesday, the President suggested he would sign whatever Congress brought him on immigration reform. But yesterday he brought some of the most hardline of restrictionists. His remarks laid bare the true motivations of those that want to close our nation to immigrants pic.twitter.com/qJeof86qdj— Thomas Wenski (@ThomasWenski) January 12, 2018
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.