WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - A GOP lawmaker is challenging a Texas bishop on the apparent contradiction between the bishop's criticism of the border wall and the existence of the Vatican wall.
During a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) referenced the Vatican wall when asking Bp. Mark J. Seitz if the churches in his diocese lock the doors after hours.
"Regarding the sovereignty of the Church and as it relates and compares with the sovereignty of our nation, the Church has been a light for the world for 2,000 years — a place of refuge, a place where a child of God could seek spiritual prosperity," said Higgins, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations.
"But the sovereignty of the Church has been protected by the security of the Church," he said. "One of the most famous walls in history is the wall around the Vatican. I would ask you, Bishop, in the area that you serve, do your churches lock their doors after hours?"
"Many of them do," Bp. Seitz answered. "I would point out that that wall you refer to at the Vatican also has arms embracing and opening to the world."
"As we do," interrupted Higgins. "We have 328 ports of entry — legal entry — into our country, into the United States of America."
Pope Francis caused a stir when he sent a $500,000 donation to assist migrants at the U.S.-Mexican border over the weekend in a move that "has all the appearance of an expensive publicity stunt aimed at poking the United States in the eye," according to Michael Hichborn, president of The Lepanto Institute, who recently spoke with Church Militant.
Prior to sending the $500,000, Pope Francis had criticized President Trump's border wall in a prerecorded interview with Spanish journalist Jordi Evole of La Sexta before leaving for Morocco on March 30.
"He who raises a wall ends up a prisoner of the wall he erected," he said. "That's a universal law in the social order and in the personal one. If you raise a wall between people, you end up a prisoner of that wall that you raised."
The Pope has been criticizing Trump's plan to build a wall at the U.S. southern border since Trump was a presidential candidate in 2016, telling journalists on a flight from Mexico to Italy that "[a] person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."
Higgins' mention of the Vatican wall in support of a country's sovereign right to protect its borders is similar to what President Trump said last December: "When they say the wall's immoral, well then you got to do something about the Vatican, because the Vatican has the biggest wall of them all."
Bishop Seitz answered Higgins by stating that the Vatican embraces and is opened to the world.
Father James Martin, S.J., made a similar statement in 2016 when tweeting a picture of Saint Peter's Square.
To all those tweeting photos to me of the Vatican walls that supposedly keep people out, a photo I took. Drop by! pic.twitter.com/Icc3TjwOlM— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) February 18, 2016
John Thomas, who has been giving tours of the Vatican since 2000, spoke to Church Militant about Bp. Seitz's response and an article — "No, Internet, the Vatican is not a walled city" — Crux published in 2016 to challenge claims of papal hypocrisy regarding walls.
"Some authors will refute the idea that the Vatican walls are defensive but will then proceed to describe the entry process visitors must endure, consisting of long lines, security checks, metal detectors and armed guards overseeing the entire process," he said.
"A cursory glance at any map of Rome shows that almost 95% of the Vatican is indeed surrounded by very high walls," he added.
While one is free to wander about St. Peter's Square outside, Thomas explained that free movement into or through Vatican City is not permitted.
"Visitors to the Vatican are permitted access to certain parts of the sovereign state, albeit only at specific times. General admittance is granted for visitors to the Vatican museums, St. Peter's Basilica, and St. Peter's Square. Visits to other areas, such as the gardens, are only by special arrangement," he explained.
The general admission, however, has clearly defined limits.
"All visitors must leave at a particular time and are not permitted entrance at all on certain days. Anyone found in any part of Vatican territory outside of that time will be removed with a swiftness that would put ICE agents to shame," said Thomas.
Vatican City and its borders are protected by the Pontifical Swiss Guard and the Papal Gendarmerie Corps, both of which are armed.
The standard issue weapon of the Swiss Guard is the halberd, a two-handed pole weapon with an axe blade and spike at the end. As bodyguards, they are equipped with the SIG P220 pistol and the SIG SG 550 rifle.
The standard issue weapon for the Gendarmerie Corps is a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol in 9mm Parabellum. They also have access to more powerful weapons like the Beretta M12 and the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun. The Gendarmerie Corps are also equipped to deal with riots with batons, tasers, pepper sprays and tear gas.
Finally, St. Peter's Square, which Bp. Seitz said "has arms embracing and opening to the world," also has a curfew.
"There are rules that apply to St. Peter's Square, as well," said Thomas. "At 11 p.m. on most evenings, all tourists are required to leave. Anyone found in the square before it is reopened in the morning will be approached by armed guards and escorted to the border."