Bishop of Tucson Calls for Canonical Penalties for Catholics Involved in Separating Families at Border

By Published on June 13, 2018

The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, asked Wednesday for border bishops to consider “canonical penalties” against Catholics who participate in separating children from families of illegal immigrants.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger made the suggestion to impose canonical penalties, which could include excommunication or purgatory, on Catholics involved in the separation of families at the border ostensibly as a way to turn them to repentance “for the salvation of these people souls.” Weisenburger’s suggestion came in the wake of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ denunciation of the Trump administration’s enforcement of immigration policies, in which the head of the USCCB warned that such policies could cause “irreparable harm and trauma” to families. 

“Canonical penalties are there in place to heal, first and foremost, to heal,” Weisenburger said. “And therefore, for the salvation of these people’s souls, maybe it’s time for us to look at canonical penalties.”

Canonical penalties are simply punishments prescribed by the Catholic Church’s penal code, and could also include the denial of Holy Communion to those who violate church law.

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 USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, issued a statement earlier on Wednesday in which he decried the Justice Department policy of separating children from the families of illegal immigrants while prosecuting the adults in the family. He also denounced a Monday ruling from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which said that domestic abuse, as a sole factor, does not qualify migrants to receive asylum.

“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The attorney general’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country,” the statement reads.

“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. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together … Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral,” the statement added.

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