A Rice County Catholic priest apologized Wednesday for describing Islam as “the greatest threat in the world,” both to the United States and Christianity itself, in a recent sermon.
“My homily on immigration contained words that were hurtful to Muslims,” the Rev. Nick VanDenBroeke said in a statement posted on the website of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “I’m sorry for this. I realize now that my comments were not fully reflective of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam.”
Earlier Wednesday, a Muslim organization called on Minnesota Catholic leaders to repudiate the sermon.
VanDenBroeke, pastor of the 100-year-old Church of the Immaculate Conception in Lonsdale, made the remark during a 15-minute homily on Jan. 5, declared Immigration Sunday by Minnesota’s Catholic bishops. In the sermon, he talked about how he believed parishioners should address their concerns about immigration.
After City Pages published an article about the sermon Wednesday, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Minnesota) issued a statement condemning VanDenBroeke’s remarks and seeking a response from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s six dioceses.
“We urge leaders of the Catholic Church in Minnesota to repudiate these hate-filled and un-Christian remarks as unrepresentative of the faith they hold dear,” said Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-Minnesota’s executive director.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda said Wednesday night that he has spoken with VanDenBroeke and that “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,” Hebda continued in his prepared statement. “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 honour Mary, his Virgin Mother.’ ”
He added that Pope Francis has also stressed the importance of “dialogue and cooperation among believers, in particular Christians and Muslim, and the need for it to be enhanced.”
“I am 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,” Hebda said in the statement.
The pastor’s homily, which was recorded and posted on the church’s website, did not mention the importance of respect for Muslims. He noted the homily was being offered on Immigration Sunday, a day first celebrated in 2009 to show the commitment of parishes statewide to welcoming migrants and refugees into their communities. Then he said he wanted to talk about illegal immigration.
VanDenBroeke said that while the church is not a political organization, it’s superior to politics and so the parishioners’ religion must inform and guide them when they vote. He said the church’s guidance on immigration is not a black-and-white issue like abortion or same-sex marriage, which he said are never acceptable.
As Catholics, VanDenBroeke said, parishioners must remember that immigrants are humans deserving of compassion. The church teaches that its members must “welcome others in the name of Christ,” he said, especially the poor, the sick, the handicapped and even “those we don’t like.”
But a nation, he said, “has a right to protect its ideas and its ideals.” Two-thirds of the way into the sermon, he waded into his views on Muslims.
“Both as Americans and as Christians we do not need to pretend that everyone who seeks to enter America needs to be treated the same,” he said. “I believe it is essential to consider the religion and worldview of the immigrants or refugees. More specifically, we should not be allowing large numbers of Muslims [seeking] asylum or immigration into our country. Islam is the greatest threat in the world both to Christianity and to America.”
VanDenBroeke urged his parishioners to oppose Muslim immigration to protect the country, “not only as a Christian nation but also as the land of the free.”
He closed by saying that the young immigrants known as Dreamers, brought to the United States as children, should have a path to citizenship. “In many ways we need them in our community and in our church,” he said.
Then he offered what he called a personal view: “I think we could easily fix the immigration question very quickly in our nation if we wanted to, if we build a wall and close the border to be able to … curb the question of illegal immigration in the future and at the same time provide a path to legal citizenship for those who have been living here, who can prove they’re not criminals, they’re living good and peaceful lives, they’re willing to work and pay taxes and be responsible.”
VanDenBroeke has preached about politics before. In 2018, he told parishioners they could help change the world for Jesus Christ by supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He encouraged parishioners to call their representatives and pray for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.