Catholic Social Teaching on Refugees – What are the Basic Teachings? Catholic Social Teaching approaches questions of human mobility from the point of view of human dignity rather than legal status or national interest. It’s key questions are not about legal obligations or defending sovereign territory, but rather how right relationships with self, God, others and creation, would call us – as individuals, communities, nations and international bodies – to respond to people on the move. Catholic Social Teaching holds that anyone who is forced to move to preserve their lives or human dignity has a moral claim on the hospitality of others. The more vulnerable and needy the person, the greater their moral claim. Beyond responding to immediate needs it also requires the protection of rights and the transformation of the causes of displacement. Because every human person, regardless of one’s legal status or geographic location, has a transcendent dignity that must always be respected, people on the move should enjoy the full range of human rights, and others have a duty to see that they are respected, protected and fulfilled. According to Catholic Social Teaching, nation states exist to serve the human person by fostering, organising and promoting the common good. The dignity of persons comes before the interests of nation states and people must never be treated as means. Addressing the global phenomenon of migration requires all nations and international organisations to work together to ensure that all people and groups are able to meet their needs and achieve their potential, that is, to share in the common good. Effective expressions of solidarity are needed. National sovereignty should be respected and supported as long as sovereign states are willing and able to fulfil their responsibilities to respect and protect the dignity and rights of people within their jurisdiction and to promote the common good. The international community has a responsibility to support and assist where this condition is not met. This is how the principle of subsidiarity works. National sovereignty cannot legitimately be used as an excuse to neglect or abuse the human rights of people, no matter what their legal status, or to stand by while this happens. In practice however states do manipulate these concepts to justify their actions, sometimes with deadly results. For more detail, see Sandie Cornish, “People on the Move and Catholic Social Teaching”, Asian Horizons, Vol 8, No 4, December 2014 What are the Major Documents of Catholic Social Teaching on Refugees? Papal messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees have been issued for more than one hundred years, but migration and forced displacement have only really emerged as important themes in Catholic Social Teaching since the mid twentieth century. Pope Pius XII responded to the post World War II migrations affirming a right to migrate. In 1952 he issued the landmark document Exsul Familia Nazarathana. It was an Apostolic Constitution that set out how the Church should care for migrants, as a matter of charity, justice, and solidarity. Pope Paul VI updated Exsul Familia Nazarathana in 1969 with an Apostolic Letter called Pastoralis Migratorum Cura and the Sacred Congregation for Bishops followed up with the instruction De Pastorali Migratorum Cura. Refugees, A Challenge to Solidarity was issued in 1992 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace together with the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. It addressed the growing refugee crisis and stresses on the international humanitarian law regarding asylum. By 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People was a need to again update the instruction on the pastoral care of migrants and Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi was issued. In 2013 the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum published pastoral guidelines on the care of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. It updates Refugees, A Challenge to Solidarity. The document is called Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Displaced Persons, and a discussion guide by Sandie Cornish is available here. During these years the social justice teachings of the Popes and Bishops also touched on questions concerning migrants and refugees in the context of their broader social justice teachings. This prezi by Sandie Cornish highlights the key positions taken. Where Can I Find Catholic Social Teaching on Refugees Quotes? Pope Francis has been very vocal about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. His first pastoral visit outside of Rome was to the island of Lampedusa, where many migrants land in Italy. Bishops Conferences in the Asia Pacific region have also consistently taught hospitality to strangers. Inspirational quotes on refugees from the Popes and Bishops can be found here. More posts on Refugees and Asylum Seekers
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Migrant and Refugee Office have put Australia’s Senators on notice that they have a moral choice to make. Legislation coming before the upper house of the national parliament places the human dignity of asylum seekers at risk: “The Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill undermines Australian values stating ‘the laws of natural justice do not apply’. Consequently, Senators are faced with a moral decision,” Fr Maurizio Pettenà, Director of the Office said. The Bill is criticized as undermining the Convention on the Status of Refugees and eroding legal protections for asylum seekers in Australia. It proposes to water down the Convention’s definition of a refugee, reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas which increase uncertainty concerning permanent protection and family reunification,and force people seeking protection to navigate a complex legal process without appropriate support and advice. Meanwhile, Bishop Peter Comensoli, Bishop-Elect of Broken Bay (formerly Auxiliary Bishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Sydney), has joined a group of prominent Australians in a protest song against the detention of asylum seeker children. The full list of participants is here.
This is a reflection that I wrote for the Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office’s kit for Migrant & Refugee Sunday. You can download the whole kit here. The Holy Family in Exile If you were asked to paint an icon of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, how would you depict them in a symbol or image? The dominant images in the media have been of boats rather than people. When we have glimpsed the people in the boats, we have largely seen men on their own, not whole families. Our faith sources suggest quite a different icon or symbol.
20 June is World Refugee Day. To help you to celebrate achievements, and to plan for more effective action, here are links to a selection of quotes for reflection from the CST Quotes section of our website. Bishop Gerard Hanna 27 May 2014 Policy is putting lives at risk. Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, 8 May 2014. Bishops plea: respect asylum seekers’ rights. Bishop Gerard Hanna, 1 May 2014 Don’t shift Responsibility for resettlement. Australian Catholic Bishops, 1 April 2014. Asylum seekers need access to legal advice. PNG Solomon Island Bishops, 28 February 2014. Death on Manus Island. Bishop Gerard Hanna, 19 February 2014. Australian Bishops mourn death of asylum seeker. Pope Francis, 29 December 2013. Rejecting the Holy Family. Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Statement 2013 – 2014 Solidarity & protection. Bishop Christopher Saunders, 21 January 2014. Asylum seekers need protection and security. Pope Francis, 1 January 2014. Sisters and brothers, not enemies. PNG SI Bishops, July 2013. PNG and Solomon Islands Bishops shocked at refugee deal with Australia. Bishop Gerard Hanna, July 2013. It is not wrong to seek asylum. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963 Ease the pain of migration. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963, n 106. The right to migrate. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, n 104, 1963. Refugees have human rights. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, n 102, 1963. Provide employment in home countries. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, n 25, 1963. Freedom of movement.
The National Council of Priests of Australia have backed the Bishops’ 8 May 2014 statement on Australia’s asylum and refugee policies. They say: Like our Bishops, many of us have seen the faces and heard the stories of these people and cannot hide our shame at the way some are being treated. Here is the full text of their 14 May 2014 statement…