[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized a position taken by Matthew Schmitz of First Things. Crux regrets the error, and the story has been amended.]
ROME — Former strategic advisor to President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, lashed out at the Catholic Church on Sunday, referring to the institution as “one of the worst instigators of this open borders policy.”
Bannon’s remarks regarding immigration were delivered in an interview with Jonathan Karl on ABC News, after a week in which religious leaders throughout the country, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, denounced the Trump administration’s enforcement of a “zero tolerance” policy that separates mothers from their children upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Wednesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued a presidential statement decrying the policy — which is meant to deter illegal immigration — as “immoral.”
The U.S. bishops have previously rejected the policy, and in a statement earlier this month said, “Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God.”
According to new government reports, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the Trump administration began enforcement of the policy in April.
During his interview with ABC News, Bannon singled out Pope Francis as the cause of the migrant “crisis” in Europe.
“That’s why you have a new government in Italy,” he added, referring to the success of the anti-immigrant Five Star and League parties following the country’s national elections this past March.
Bannon, who was ousted from his White House post in August of last year, went on to add that although he is a Catholic, “the pope is not — is not infallible when it comes to public policy and that’s a public policy issue.”
As the former head of right-wing news site Breitbart, this is not the first time Bannon has sparked controversy by faulting the Catholic Church for its defense of migrants and refugees.
In September of last year, he suggested the U.S. bishops have financial and other self-interested reasons for supporting DACA, the federal program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors from deportation.
At the time, he described the bishops’ position as “terrible,” adding, ‘“You know why? Because [they have been] unable to really, to come to grips with the problems in the Church, they need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it.”
In response to his statements at the time, the U.S. bishops struck back by noting that justice for immigrants is central to Catholic teaching.
“It comes directly from Jesus Himself in Matthew 25, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food…a stranger and you welcomed me.’ Immigrants and refugees are precisely the strangers we must welcome,” said USCCB chief communications officer James Rogers. “This isn’t Catholic partisanship. The Bible is clear: welcoming immigrants is indispensable to our faith.”
Since the election of Trump, immigration has become a focal point for the U.S. bishops.
Following their bi-annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale this past week, the U.S. bishops are moving forward with sending a delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to stand in solidarity with migrants and to inspect detention facilities.
In recent days, numerous individual bishops have issued their own statements condemning the policy of family separation efforts, with Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami taking to NPR saying that it “weaponizes” children and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York appearing on CNN pushing back against the administration’s claims that such a policy was “biblical.”
On Sunday, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and defended Trump’s action, using her credentials as both a Catholic and as a mother in an effort to blame the policy on Democratic politicians unwilling to work with the president, even adding “nobody likes this policy.”
Despite the unanimity of the U.S. bishops, other Catholics have defended the administration and criticized Catholic leaders for, in their view, conflating immigration with other issues as part of the “right to life.”
While a family separation policy has been legal under both previous Republican and Democratic administrations, many U.S. Catholic leaders have used the ensuing controversy to note that whatever is legal may not be just.
As Dolan told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “I don’t think that we should obey a law that goes against what God intends, that you would take a baby — a child — from his or her mom. I mean, that’s just unjust, that’s unbiblical, that’s un-American,” he said. “There can be no Bible passage that would justify that.”