Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a staunch Catholic traditionalist and one of Pope Francis’ leading critics, said restricting Muslim immigration is a patriotic and “responsible” stance.
Church doctrine is clear that Catholics must help “individuals that are not able to find a way of living in their own country,” the cardinal said during a conference in Rome on May 17. But the church doesn’t have that same obligation toward immigrants who are “opportunists” ― particularly, Muslims, he said.
Islam “by definition believes itself to be destined to rule the world,” Burke said.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what has happened in Europe,” the cardinal added, pointing to countries like France, Germany and Italy.
Burke referred to former Breitbart News reporter Raheem Kassam’s book “No Go Zones: How Sharia Law Is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You,” which stokes fears about Muslims trying to implement religious law in the U.S. ― something no national Muslim organization has ever called for.
“They resist the authority, the legitimate authority, of the state,” Burke said about Muslims. “And so to be opposed to wholesale or large-scale Muslim immigration is, in fact, as far as I’m concerned, the responsible exercise of one’s patriotism.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Burke’s remarks on Thursday.
“It is sad that Cardinal Burke is using his platform and position as a religious leader not to promote interfaith peace and understanding but to smear Islam and promote debunked conspiracy theories,” CAIR’s communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, said in a statement. “The Cardinal’s remarks fly in the face of a long history of interreligious dialogue and respect between the Catholic and Muslim communities.”
In the past, Pope Francis has said he believes governments have the right to carefully assess whether they are able to properly integrate new arrivals. But overall, he has encouraged his flock to be welcoming toward migrants regardless of their faith ― setting an example by personally bringing a group of Syrian Muslim refugees to resettle in Rome.
The cardinal’s remarks are notable given the discrimination faced by generations of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. When a massive influx of German, Italian and Irish Catholic immigrants arrived on America’s shores in the 19th century, nativist politicians issued dire warnings that the newcomers would steal jobs, spread disease and crime, and infiltrate American politics in an attempt to put the pope in power. Misinformation about Catholics spread through the country via salacious pamphlets and books. In 1844, nativist mobs attacked Catholic churches and homes in Philadelphia. In the 1850s, this anti-Catholic sentiment grew into a formidable political force ― resulting in the formation of a blatantly anti-immigrant political party, the Know-Nothings.
A century later, when John F. Kennedy was running for president, Protestant ministers questioned whether his first loyalty would be toward the pope. In the decades that followed Kennedy’s election, as the church began to ally with Protestant evangelicals on social issues, Catholics became more fully integrated into American public life.
Today, many descendants of these 19th-century Catholic immigrants appear to harbor anti-immigrant views themselves. In a 2018 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, more than half of white Catholics (60%) said they favor a temporary travel ban for people from some Muslim-majority countries. Only 34% of Hispanic Catholics said the same. White Catholics also had mixed feelings about immigrants’ effect on America ― about 47% said immigrants threaten American society, while 51% said immigrants strengthen American society. In contrast, about 76% of Hispanic Catholics said immigrants strengthen American society.
Burke himself is a descendant of Irish immigrants. His grandmother left her native country in 1910 to start a new life in Wisconsin, where Burke was born, according to the Irish Independent.
During a visit to Ireland in 2010, Burke praised his grandparents for bringing their Catholic faith to the United States.
“I always think of Ireland with gratitude, because my grandparents brought the Catholic faith to the USA, and they and my parents nurtured it in a very steadfast way in the home and the wider community,” Burke said, according to the Independent. “The older I became the more grateful I became for the way the faith was handed down from grandparents and parents to the next generation.”
The Rev. James Martin, editor at large of the Catholic magazine America, called Burke’s recent comments about Muslim immigrants “stereotyping, plain and simple.”
“There are legitimate arguments for limiting immigration, and each country is entitled to make laws for its own well being,” Martin wrote on Twitter. “But there are zero legitimate reasons for limiting it on the basis of religion. Zero.”