At meeting in Florida, U.S. bishops decry Sessions' asylum decision

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA

By Dennis Sadowski

The U.S. bishops June 13 decried U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision
that asylum seekers fleeing domestic or gang violence cannot find protection in
the United States.

“At its core, asylum is an
instrument to preserve the right to life,” the bishops’ statement said. They
urged the nation’s policymakers and courts “to respect and enhance, not erode,
the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.”

Sessions’ decision “elicits deep
concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate
protection,” it said. “These vulnerable women will now face return to extreme
dangers of domestic violence in their home country.”

The statement from the bishops
came on the first day of their June 13-14 spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale.

Just after opening prayers,
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, read the statement from the dais, and the
bishops voiced their support.

Announced by Sessions at a June
11 news conference, the decision “negates decades of precedents that have provided
protection to women fleeting domestic violence,” it said. “Unless overturned,
the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in
cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”

The attorney general reversed an
immigration court’s decision granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she
had been abused by her husband. He said U.S. asylum laws cannot be used to
remedy “all misfortune,” including violence someone suffers in
another country or other reasons related to an individual’s “social, economic,
family or other personal circumstances.”

In his remarks, Cardinal DiNardo
also said he joined Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the
USCCB’s Committee on Migration, “in condemning the continued use of family
separation at the U.S./Mexican border as an implementation of the
administration’s zero tolerance policy.”

“Our government has the
discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from
their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma,” the cardinal said. “Families
are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay

“While protecting our borders is
important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find
other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not
the answer and is immoral.”

During the morning session, the
U.S. bishops also heard a report from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican
nuncio to the United States.

He talked about the need
of church leaders to not just hear young people but to really listen to them,
emphasizing that this is what Pope Francis often talks about it.

The nuncio talked about
the encuentro process currently underway in the U.S., using it as a strong
example of the church listening to the faithful

Regional encuentros are
taking place all over the country. There delegates outline priorities that will
shape Hispanic ministry for years to come. The regionals lead to the National
Fifth Encuentro, or V Encuentro, to be held in Texas in September. Archbishop
Pierre also talked about the church’s upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.

“Young people need to be
a priority of the church” today, the nuncio said, “not just for the future of
the church. ‘ Young people express a desire of an intentional knowing encounter
in Christ rather than a faith reduced to ‘ moralism.”

“I believe many young people
desire wholistic formation. They want the church to facilitate an encounter
with Jesus,” he said. Such an encounter “provokes the question ‘What
interests me in life’ and leads to works of justice and mercy and to live life ‘
with great intensity while loving their neighbor.”

“Young people want to engage in
reality” but do not want to be on that journey alone, he added. “They are
searching for a strong sense of belonging.”

Also on the agenda for their
first day were reports from Father David Whitestone, chair of the bishops’ National
Advisory Council, which is marking the 50th anniversary of its formation, and
from Francesco
Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, which oversees implementation
of the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young

Other reports covered the V
Encuentro and the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational
Discernment, which will take place at the Vatican in October.

The bishops also heard
preliminary presentations on several action items they will be voting on,

— Revised guidelines governing
Catholic and non-Catholic health care partnerships the audits. The revisions
are limited to Part 6 of the “Ethical and Religious Directives for
Catholic Health Care Services,” the document that governs moral questions
related to the delivery of health care.

— A new document described as a
“pastoral response” to the growing Asian and Pacific Island Catholic
community in the United States. “Encountering Christ in Harmony”
offers pastoral suggestions to address the concerns and needs of Asian and
Pacific Island Catholics.

— Revisions in language to
clarify seven of the 17 articles in the “Charter for the Protection of
Children and Young Adults.” The changes offer more specific language in
several areas. Article 4 has been revised to protect the seal of the sacrament
of reconciliation. Changes in Articles 6 and 12 specifically state that all
people who have contact with minors rather than those in positions of trust
“will abide by standard of behavior and appropriate boundaries.” In
all, seven changes have been proposed for a vote by the bishops.

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