Francis & His “New Europeans”

Coverage of Pope Francis by the mainstream Catholic press is barely worth reading. It confuses the papacy—most especially, this particular pontificate—with the Church itself. Scrap the dominant Catholic punditry. Ignore anodyne broadcasts from the Vatican Press Office. Get your goods from somewhere off the ghetto newsstand. Go some place where insight into the character of this pontificate is not befogged by misplaced deference or courtier’s ambition.

One place to go is Daniel Williams’ blog Next War Notes. Williams is the author of the recently published Forsaken: The Persecution of Christians in Today’s Middle East (2016). He spent thirty years as a correspondent for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, China, and Mexico. Most recently, he served as a senior researcher with the Emergencies Division at Human Rights Watch, focusing on rights abuses during the Arab Spring, as well as in Russia, Central America and Nigeria.

The title of his blog comes from Ernest Hemingway’s 1935 Esquire article “Notes on the Next War.” In it, Hemingway predicted the coming conflagration in Europe and told why it was inevitable.

Yesterday’s post, “Et Tu, Francis: The Pope Betrays Iraqi Christians,” must be attended to. Williams opens with reference to Pope Francis’ visit last month to Lesbos where he visited with Syrian refugees and took twelve of them—all Muslim—back to Rome.

This symbolic gesture was nice. He also, just the other day, lectured European leaders on their failure to take in refugees. He called recent migrants “new Europeans” and said they should be integrated on the continent.

The Lesbos event was marred by the Pope’s failure to take back a single Christian refugee, even though at least one family was available and singled out for asylum by Vatican officials. The family said that they were informed they would be transported away by the Pope, but when the time came, they were rejected. Papal spokespeople said it was an unfortunate document snafu, though that’s hard to believe that, on this highly organized visit and media spectacular, a bureaucratic detail got in the way.

So the Vatican was hamstrung by paperwork on behalf of Christians. Or so the apologists told us. But even if you take the Vatican’s word for it, other things hinder the defense.

What is more telling is that Francis has made no such refugee-rescue gesture toward thousands of Iraqi Christians who languish in refugee camps in Kurdistan and who are readily available for migration. They fled their homes in Mosul and surrounding Iraqi towns under threats of the Islamic State  almost two years ago.

Nor, in his speech to European leaders on May 6, did he make any appeal for them.

What makes the Iraqi Christian refugees different from others in Middle East war zones? They were forced to flee purely on the grounds that they were Christians, even though the fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in the surrounding area had stopped. They are not merely victims of a war crime, but a crime against humanity prohibited in wartime and peacetime. They clearly fit the universally accepted definition of refugees which includes people who can’t go home because of persecution for religious beliefs. . . .

President Obama effectively erased the category of religious persecution from American immigration law. Last November, he said the United States has no “religious test” for accepting refugees. He was dishonest to do so. Of course, we do. It is specifically written into US immigration statutes: a refugee is someone who has a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

President Obama does not want to take in Christians in any number for fear of publicizing immigration controversy over the specifics of refugee status, and stoking resistance to Islamic immigration in particular. But what of Francis?

At Easter, he asked everybody not to “forget the plight of persecuted Christians” in Iraq. That’s all. No refugee status. Francis, too, seems to operate under the notion that if you speak up for Iraqi Christians, you are somehow biased and blind to the needs of others [e.g. Yazidis]. . . .

To advocate in favor of this population is to possess a coherent policy regarding religious persecution and refugee status. By ignoring the Iraqi Christians, Pope Francis abandons his flock in the name of some sort of vague generalist posture that helps no one. He is wrong to do so.

Read the entire essay here. And browse the site while you are there.