Lonsdale pastor apologizes for ‘words that were hurtful to Muslims’

| January 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

A Lonsdale pastor has apologized after remarks he made about Muslim immigration and Islam being “the greatest threat in the world” sparked controversy.

“My homily on immigration contained words that were hurtful to Muslims. I’m sorry for this,” said Father Nick VanDenBroeke, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Lonsdale, in a Jan. 29 statement. “I realize now that my comments were not fully reflective of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam.”

In a homily Father VanDenBroeke gave Jan. 5, the feast of the Epiphany and, in Minnesota, Immigration Sunday, he acknowledged the complexity of immigration as a political issue and that the Bible challenges Catholics to “welcome strangers.”

Father Nick VanDenBroeke

He said that the U.S. should welcome people who are suffering and in need into the country, and noted that the U.S. has reached a 40-year low in the number of refugees it accepts at a time when the displacement of people has never been greater due to war and poverty. He also spoke in support of a path of citizenship for “dreamers,” or young people who were brought into the county illegally as young people, as well as other undocumented immigrants who are already in the country.

“We need to look at the facts that there are a lot of hurting people around the world, and we need to help them,” he said in the 15-minute homily. “Our Catholic faith challenges us to say,  ‘What are we doing to reach out and help?’ It’s so easy for us to sit back and be comfortable Americans who simply don’t care.”

Then he said that immigrants’ religion and worldview should be taken into consideration when the country decides whom to admit.

“Both as Americans and as Christians, we do not need to pretend that everyone who seeks to enter America should be treated the same,” he said. “I believe it’s essential to consider the religion and worldview of the immigrants and refugees. More specifically, we should not be allowing large numbers of Muslims asylum or immigration into our country. Islam is the greatest threat in the world, both to Christianity and to America.”

He continued: “Of course there are peaceful Muslims, absolutely, but the religion as a religion, and an ideology and a worldview, it is contrary to Christ and to America. I am not saying we hate Muslims. I am absolutely not saying that. They are people created out of love by God just as each one of us is. But while we certainly do not hate them as people, we must oppose their religion and worldview. And if we want to protect our great country not only as a Christian nation, but also as the land of the free, then we must oppose the immigration of Muslims. That’s an example of keeping bad ideas out of the country that we have the right to do as a sovereign nation.”

A recording of the homily was posted on Immaculate Conception’s website. It drew the attention of City Pages, the Twin Cities’ alternative newsweekly, which posted a story to its website Jan. 29. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for the Minnesota Catholic Conference to repudiate his comments.

In a Jan. 29 statement, Archbishop Bernard Hebda said he spoke with Father VanDenBroeke about the homily “and he has expressed sorrow for his words and an openness to seeing more clearly the Church’s position on our relationship with Islam.”

“The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear,” Archbishop Hebda said, pointing to several sources. “As Pope Benedict XVI noted, ‘The Catholic Church, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, looks with esteem to Muslims, who worship God above all by prayer, almsgiving and fasting, revere Jesus as a prophet while not acknowledging his divinity, and honor Mary, his Virgin Mother.’ He called upon the Church to persist in esteem for Muslims, who ‘worship God who is one, living and subsistent; merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity.’”

Continuing to quote Pope Benedict XVI, he said, “If all of us who believe in God desire to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism.”

“That continues to be our teaching today,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Pope Francis has echoed Pope Benedict, stating that it is important to intensify the dialogue between Catholics and Islam. He has emphasized ‘the great importance of dialogue and cooperation among believers, in particular Christians and Muslim, and the need for it to be enhanced.’ He has called for all Christians and Muslims to be ‘true promoters of mutual respect and friendship, in particular through education.’”

Archbishop Hebda said that he is “grateful for the many examples of friendship that have been offered by the Muslim community in our region and we are committed to strengthening the relationship between the two communities.”

While the Catholic Church and Islam have had a fraught relationship historically, contemporary Church teaching has repeatedly expressed esteem for Muslim people.

The 1965 Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate”, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, states “the Church has high regard for the Muslims.”

The document notes that in history, “many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims.”

However, “The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

It says “the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion.”

Other Church documents and Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have spoken positively of Islam and Muslims and their desire that they and Christians share mutual respect.

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops declared the first Sunday in January Immigration Sunday in 2009. In 2012, they released a joint statement calling for federal immigration reform.

“Catholic teaching also recognizes the sovereignty of nations to secure their borders and make decisions about the identity and number of immigrants they allow into their countries,” stated that document, “Unlocking the Gates of our Hearts.”

“Our government has the duty to consider immigration’s impact on the domestic economy and our national security,” they stated. “Yet, we must always make sure that we are not exaggerating these concerns in ways that deny the basic humanitarian needs of good people seeking refuge in our country.”

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