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Cardinal Sean O'Malley Blasts Trump Administration Over Immigration Policies05:33
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The head of the Boston Archdiocese is calling on the Trump administration to respect the dignity of people and stop separating children from their families trying to illegally cross U.S. borders.

This comes after the Homeland Security secretary said people crossing the border without authorization should be jailed, even if that means separating families.

In a statement, Cardinal Sean O'Malley said the policy is rooted in "misguided moral logic." And he says he cannot remain silent over an immigration policy that "destroys families, traumatizes parents and terrorizes children."

J. Bryan Hehir, O'Malley's closest adviser on immigration issues and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the secretary of health and social services for the archdiocese, talked to Morning Edition about the cardinal's statement.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Deborah Becker: Why did the cardinal choose to involve himself in this immigration policy right now?

J. Bryan Hehir: Well I think you only can answer that question by thinking back a little bit. Cardinal O'Malley has addressed the immigration issue sort of in season and out of season. He did it earlier this year at the beginning of this year speaking on the TPS reversal by the U.S. government. He spoke earlier at length when the Holy Father went to the border. He went to the border himself with other bishops. This is the same for him. It is not a singular event.

But I do think he has followed this policy step by step. As his statement tried to indicate, there's been a cascade of decisions by the administration, one after another: TPS, DACA. All of these questions and this new dimension of the policy — new in the sense of more vigorous enforcement by separating children from their families. I think he thought that was again passing another red line, if you want to put it in those terms. And he did not think that that passing of the red line should happen without moral resistance to it.

Do you think it's a difficult position for a religious leader like Cardinal O'Malley to make statements about political events that are happening in the country? And what's the best way to deal with that?

I think every major political decision has moral content. It has moral content because major political decisions affect people. It has moral content because major political decisions are made by people and it has moral content because major political decisions are enforced by people, so you can't escape the moral content of political decisions.

But many Catholics in Massachusetts voted for President Trump and may support policies that will crack down more on immigration, on illegal immigration. So I guess walking that line as the leader of Catholics and speaking out on this, how does a leader do that?

Well I think you respect the conscience of every individual, and in Catholic teaching, a person ultimately must follow their conscience, their final decision about an issue. We all have a responsibility to inform our consciences before we follow them, so that on powerful moral issues we're all invited to think hard before we come to a final decision.

Is there concern that some of these statements by the Cardinal could drive away some parishioners?

That's always the danger and the cardinal is a very compassionate person. He does not approach things in a highly coercive way. And that partly is because he never wants to drive anyone away at all. He's trying to articulate at a crucial moment in the country on this issue that it is not purely political, it is even not purely legal because moral analysis of the law is also part of the American tradition. As Martin Luther King demonstrated, and as Catholics have always believed.

What do you think you would hope would be the outcome of making a statement about this particular immigration policy? You said persuasion. Are you persuading Catholics? Or who are you persuading?

What Catholic teaching tries to do, and I think if you look at Cardinal O'Malley's statements over the years on this, I think he always tries to speak to two audiences. His first audience is the Catholic community, where you try to draw upon the full range of reasons that Catholic teaching invokes on issues a whole range of issues. But he always has in mind that, precisely because in the United States we have this precious guarantee of religious freedom, he always thinks of people beyond the Catholic community who might find Catholic teaching important morally also. So you're always trying to speak to the community of Catholic faith and you're trying simultaneously to speak to those who do not share the same faith, but might be persuaded again by the moral reasoning of these kinds of statements.

This segment aired on June 14, 2018.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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