San Diego bishop calls border wall prototypes ‘grotesque’

President Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes March 13, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(RNS) — San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy condemned the Trump administration’s border wall effort this week, calling it “ineffective” and “grotesque” as the president visited the region to tour prototypes.

President Trump used his first visit to California since taking office to decry current fences along the U.S.-Mexico border as  “inferior” — and champion the various 30-foot-tall mock-ups that could be used to make good on his campaign promise to erect a “big, beautiful wall.”

“If you don’t have a wall system, we’re not going to have a country,” Trump told journalists after observing the wall models, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “There’s a lot of problems in Mexico. They have the cartels. We’re fighting the cartels. We’re fighting them hard.”

But many remain opposed to the idea, including McElroy, who issued a statement on Tuesday (March 13) decrying the wall plan.

“It is a sad day for our country when we trade the majestic, hope-filled symbolism of the Statue of Liberty for an ineffective and grotesque wall which both displays and inflames the ethnic and cultural divisions that have long been the underside of our national history,” McElroy’s statement read.

“Our faith is in the God who is the Father of us all, and who urges us to see Jesus himself in the immigrants and refugees who seek safety and freedom.”

Catholic Church leadership has long voiced fierce opposition to the border wall project. When asked during a February 2016 trip to Mexico about then-candidate Trump’s proposal, Pope Francis — who had visited the U.S.-Mexico border the day before and blessed undocumented immigrants — was dismissive of the idea and appeared to criticize the faith of those who support it.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel,” Francis said.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas — the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration — has also cast aspersions on the idea, saying in a January 2017 statement, “I am disheartened that the president has prioritized building a wall on our border with Mexico.” He added the wall would “only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.”

U.S. Catholics appear to be split along racial lines regarding Trump’s proposal. According to a January 2018 Pew Research poll, 55 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics favor the wall, whereas 83 percent of Hispanic Catholics oppose it.

Faith-based opposition to the project has been consistent and passionate among mainline Protestants and non-Christians. In addition to Catholic pushback, a number of faith groups have condemned Trump’s plan, including the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Union for Reform Judaism, Alliance of Baptists, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Disciples Center for Public Witness (Disciples of Christ) and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), among others.

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.


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  • That was to keep armed invaders out…not pennyless immigrants. In fact, immigrants were welcomed through the gates thanks to the policies of the Persian Empire at that time.

  • It was to keep everyone out that they didn’t want in. Cite your scripture that it was only for “armed invaders”

  • Does this bishop know that the pope lives in walled city? Talk about hypocrisy. Say anything, let anyone come in, as long as the catholic church can get a dollar out of it.

  • What is really “grotesque” is the refusal of bishop McElroy to deny communion to pro-abortion politicians.

  • “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)

    This is a direct order from GOD. Do you think it doesn’t apply to you?

  • ??? Hypocrisy comes so easily to so-called “believers”. I think the Lord’s words are clear here — and you’re in open rebellion against your God. Good luck with that.

  • Walls, whether literal or emotional barriers that now divide the human family, will all fall down after God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17) soon gets rid of ALL our problems on earth (Revelation 21:3,4).

    There will finally be complete and loving brotherhood of all meek persons, no matter our race, culture or nation, and all wicked ones will no longer exist (Psalm 37:10,11). ????☝️

    Neither will there be wars, weapons, hate, prejudice, injustice, greed, selfishness, corruption, or any kind of fear (Micah 4:3,4). Man and his governments will never make ALL these blessings a reality, but God and his government (Daniel 2:44) certainly will!???

  • Pope Francis had said that someone who would build a wall is not Christian and Trump responded that it was “disgraceful” for the pontiff to question his faith. Both sides walked back their criticism. Trump said that he likes the pope and what he represents – “I don’t think this is a fight.” The official Vatican spokesman said that the pope’s comment was “in no way a personal attack, nor a voting indication.”
    Pope Francis does have some agreement with Trump on border policy. “Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk – from terrorism or such things – have even more the right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors,” the pope said.
    The week before the U.S. elections, Pope Francis said, “The migrant must be treated with certain rules, because to emigrate is a right, but it is a very regulated right.”
    On the day of Trump’s inauguration, Pope Francis was asked about the new president. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion.”
    Congratulating Trump on his victory, the USCCB president said: “We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security.”A week later, the USCCB repeated that their pro-immigration efforts would “honor and respect the laws of this nation,” still echoing Pope Francis’ position.
    Which is why McElroy and every other bishop – unlike other religious leaders across the country – HAVE NOT OFFERED THEIR PROPERTY AS SANCTUARIES FOR IMMIGRANTS.

  • Robert McElroy is an ultra-liberal fool and a Catholic apostate. No Catholic should listen to his crap.

  • Nehemiah 1:3….


    2 Chron 32:4-5 “And he strengthened himself, built up all the wall that was broken, raised it up to the towers, and built another wall outside; also he repaired the Millo in the City of David, and made weapons and shields in abundance.”

    Clearly in the context it is for military purposes.

    The city of Jerusalem has been surrounded by walls for its defense since ancient times. In the middle Bronze Age, a period also known as the Patriarchs period, a city named Jebos was built in the location of today’s Jerusalem, which was relatively small (50,000 square meters) but was fortified. Remains from this wall are located above the Hezekiah’s Tunnel”

  • One doesn’t have to be an ultra-conservative to simply hold the evident principle of international law, that a country should have borders and is entitled to defend these borders.

    McElroy is one of those irrational liberals, who think that everybody should be welcome in every country without formalities or due process. Just sneek in, guys. Which is of course the biggest crap ever thought. Perhaps he should make a proposal to the Pope to tear down the walls of the Vatican.

  • Nehemiah 1:3 – 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” This was 70 years after being taken captive.
    2 Chron 32 – was from after they had been threatened by Sennacherib that does not discount my pont

  • Our president won’t spend money to bring Puerto Rico back to functionality, to improve national infrastructure, to ensure citizens have effective healthcare, clean drinking water, effective schools, or to properly staff the executive branch.

    But he will spend campaign funds on hookers and wants money on a wall which will never be built, never work and be compromised even before the construction starts.

    Some set of priorities that guy has. 🙂

  • LOL! Building a boondoggle wall is not defending our borders in an effective manner.

    It is wasting national resources on something to please panicky bigoted fools but ultimately be compromised long before construction is completed.

    I have yet to see conservatives who deal with the issues involved in an honest or informed manner.

    “who think that everybody should be welcome in every country without formalities or due process.”

    Interestingly our immigration legal system has no real form of due process. If it did, there would be far fewer deportations.

    “Perhaps he should make a proposal to the Pope to tear down the walls of the Vatican.”

    Its a start. 🙂

  • “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)

    This is a direct order from your GOD. Do you think it doesn’t apply to you? Answer the question or continue on in your cowardice.

  • That’s the opposite of what the Scripture says. But you knew that. You’re in violation your God’s commands. Repent now.

  • “Our president won’t spend money”
    Spud that is congress’ problem not Trump’s, c’mon you’re smarter than that.

  • Disaster relief does not require Congress. The president sets the tone for what his party does in the legislature. Especially if they have control of it. The buck stops there.

  • Last time I checked it was not the role of the state to be Christian or to push the Gospel. It is the role of the state to provide for safety and security. The only thing I care about with the wall is whether it is effective. I fully support legal immigration where we know who is here, for how long and why. I fully oppose illegal immigration, too big a security risk.

  • At the most I hear a command that is directed at Israel, not every nation in the world, and not the United STates which was not in existence at the time. I don’t recall our founding fathers being strangers in the land of egypt.