In an interview Friday with Italy’s Religious Information Service (SIR), the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, expressed harsh criticism of the accord reached Thursday at the EU Brussels summit on the issue of Europe’s immigration crisis.
“We are not satisfied with this agreement. Some progress was made, such as the financing of the Triton operation, but this doesn’t solve the problem. A long-term program and a serious migration policy are needed,” he said.
Vegliò called the proposal of bombing the barges of human traffickers in Africa a “bizarre idea.”
“What about international law! Bombing in a country is an act of war!” said the cardinal. “What are they shooting at? Only the small boats transporting migrants? Who can guarantee that the weapons won’t kill people nearby, as well as destroying the boats? And even if they destroyed all the boats, the problem of migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty will continue to exist,” he said.
According to Vegliò, “it is useless to bomb the boats, since desperate people will always find ways to escape. They will build other barges, or travel over land.”
“As long as there is war, dictatorships, terrorism and misery there will be refugees, who will go where they can go,” he said.
The cardinal pointed a finger back at Europe, blaming the developed world for supplying arms that fuel military conflicts in Africa. “We all know,” he said, “that the weapons come from developed countries, including Italy. If we were able to heal these countries there would be no more war in Syria, or corruption and tensions in Libya or the Middle East,” he said.
Vegliò also qualified the EU response to African immigrants as “selfish,” especially the response from the UK. “Everyone is willing to give money as long as they are not disturbed in their own country. But this is not the solution,” he said.
“The European Union is an economic and financial unit with no common foreign policy,” he said. “It’s a beautiful and exciting project but it seems to me that today Europe is tired and very selfish and that it has lost its Christian values.”
The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was much more temperate and positive in his assessment of the Brussels accord, speaking in a keynote address at the University of Padua. The Cardinal encouraged “Europe’s continued involvement in this issue. We are on the right track, we must engage and get involved, we must continue on this road,” he said.
Parolin insisted that the humanitarian response is the first priority, expressing his judgment that Italy is doing much to help the situation. Then, he said, “you have to solve the root problem, and put these countries in a position that doesn’t force their citizens to leave, by eliminating the causes of poverty, extreme violence, war and conflict.”
“And finally there is the topic of the fight against traffickers,” he said, which requires a precise response.
Like Cardinal Vegliò, the bishop of Agrigento, Sicily, Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, was critical of the idea of bombing traffickers’ boats in Africa. The Cardinal, who is also the president of the “Fondazione Migrantes” of the Italian Bishops Conference, said that he found the idea of destroying the boats “perplexing.”
“If tomorrow I go to shoot certain boats and then I find out that I hit innocent fishermen, how can I just apologize for being wrong? I cannot understand how such a solution can be put into practice,” he said.
“Europe has shown that you can sit around a table to address a problem that affects everyone, but it didn’t have the courage to go all the way,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome