Pope’s Remarks on Papal Plane: Sowing More Confusion Than Clarity

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by Bruce Walker  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 4, 2019   

Pope Francis: 'Those who build walls will end up being prisoners'

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Pope Francis has made it clear in the past that he disagrees with President Donald Trump's commitment to building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Last week's in-flight press conference aboard the papal plane witnessed him reaffirming his position while addressing several other topics.

Returning from a trip to Morocco on March 31, the Pope responded to questions from the press that sowed more confusion than clarity on such key issues as migration, relations between Christians and Muslims and clerical sex abuse. Specifically, he condemned border walls while defending the presumption of innocence of Cdl. Philippe Barbarin, who was convicted last month in French criminal court of covering up sexual abuse by priests and whose conviction is pending appeal.

Border Walls

Concerning border walls, the Pope was clearly referencing Trump when he remarked:

[W]e feel pain when we see people who prefer to build walls. Why do we feel sad? Because those who build walls will end up being prisoners of the walls they build. Instead, those who build bridges will go forward. Building bridges, for me, is something that goes almost beyond human because it takes great effort. ... Instead of walls that are against communication — they are for isolation and those that build them will become prisoners of those walls.

As in the past, the Pope makes clear he disagrees with political leaders seeking to maintain the integrity of national borders by imposing limitations on immigrants entering their countries.


The Pope's stance, however, is contradicted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states in section 2241:

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws, and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

In other words, nations are defined inherently by borders and are required to protect those borders as a primary function of the nation's government. Those allowed to immigrate are responsible for following the laws and contributing positively to their adopted homeland. As noted by Scott Richert:

All of this seems so obvious, not only from natural law but from common sense, that one may wonder why anyone would assume that the Church favors unrestricted immigration. Part of the answer lies in the emphasis that is often placed on a separate but related aspect of Church teaching: namely, the personal right of migration that flows from the inherent dignity of the human person.

But while the right of migration speaks to the need to allow someone in straitened circumstances to leave his country of origin (and to bring with him those under his care, his family above all), it does not entail an unlimited right to settle wherever he may wish.

Christians and Muslims

Discussing the relationship between Christians and Muslims, Pope Francis indicated that differences between the two faiths were a less substantial threat to Catholicism than individual Western governments that suppress freedom of religious conscience. As an example, he brought up the growing number of countries adopting legalized euthanasia. Surprisingly, he did not condemn the rape and slaughter of an estimated 300 Nigerian Christians — including women and children — at the hands of the Muslim-majority Fulani militia since February. 

Pope Francis' penchant for off-the-cuff remarks to the press has required his public relations team to subsequently offer elaborate clarifications for some comments and, in some instances, the complete walking back of other statements.

When challenged on whether Muslim converts to Christianity are sufficiently protected in Morocco — where the law imposes punishment on those who defect from Islam — Pope Francis offered a roundabout response that downplayed the religious persecution of converts to Christianity.

Cdl. Philippe Barbarin

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Cdl. Philippe Barbarin

Cardinal Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, submitted his resignation to the Pope after he was found guilty of covering up sex abuse committed by Rev. Bernard Preyna, and received a six-month suspended sentence. The priest pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing numerous Boy Scouts in the 1970s and 1980s. Pope Francis surprised Catholics when he rejected Barbarin's resignation.

Justifying his refusal, Pope Francis said on the plane:

He, a man of the Church, has submitted his resignation, but morally I cannot accept it because juridically, but also in the classic global jurisprudence, there is a presumption of innocence during the time the cause is open. He made an appeal and the cause is still open. Then, when the second tribunal gives its verdict, we'll see what happens. But, he always is to have the presumption of innocence. This is important because it goes against the superficial media condemnation. What does the global jurisprudence say? "He did this." But look, what does the judge say, what does the global jurisprudence say? That if a case is open, there is the presumption of innocence. Maybe he is not innocent, but there is the presumption.

The argument fails, as a pope may accept a prelate's resignation for any reason — and a conviction of sex abuse in criminal court is more than sufficient to meet the bar for resignation. The presumption of innocence is no excuse regardless of whether a canonical investigation is ongoing, as he was found guilty in a secular court of law. For the time being, Barbarin is taking a leave of absence.

Pope Francis' penchant for off-the-cuff remarks to the press has required his public relations team to subsequently offer elaborate clarifications for some comments and, in some instances, the complete walking back of other statements.

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