Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, one of the nation’s highest-ranking Mexican American Catholic leaders, was left in shock Saturday when he heard about the mass shooting in El Paso. Garcia-Siller said there was “no justifiable explanation for such scenes of horror.”
But what was clear to the archbishop, who recently supported migrants and asylum seekers crossing the southern border, was that President Donald Trump’s “invasion” rhetoric against Hispanics, language echoed in a manifesto police believe was posted by the alleged El Paso gunman, helped create a climate that led to the tragedy.
The 62-year-old archbishop said on Twitter this week that Trump — a very weak and “poor man” — had caused “too much damage already” and that the president’s rhetoric had “destroyed” people’s lives. Pleading for gun control so that more lives would not be “wasted in vain” after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Garcia-Siller had another request for Trump.
“President, stop hate and racism, starting with yourself,” he said.
On Tuesday, Garcia-Siller, who deleted his tweets mentioning the president earlier in the day, apologized for singling out Trump, but maintained that hateful rhetoric and the violence that comes from it must be extinguished from society.
“I regret that my recent Tweet remarks were not focused on the issues but on an individual,” Garcia-Siller said in a video posted to Facebook.
The archbishop’s blistering critique against Trump comes during a period in which religious leaders are speaking out more frequently against the president, his policies and his treatment of immigrants and minorities. In Garcia-Siller’s case, he is perhaps the first bishop in the nation to publicly accuse Trump of racism, CNN reported.
In his nearly 4 1/2 -minute statement, Garcia-Siller shared passages from a pastoral document outlining the Catholic Church’s opposition to cultural racism.
“The pastoral letter stated that, ‘Despite many promising strides in our country, the ugly cancer of racism still infects our nation. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice,’” he said. “The document also reads, ‘Every racist act — every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity or place of origin — is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God.’”
Garcia-Siller added: “No one has the moral right to make racist statements.”
While he never said Trump by name in his Facebook post, the archbishop made no secret of whom he was speaking to in the video. It’s also clear in the tweets that remain on his Twitter feed.
As the eldest of 15 children, Garcia-Siller said, he grew up in a lower middle-class family in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosí, where he attended 6 a.m. Mass every day, according to the Vision Vocation Network. Serving as an ordained priest for almost 15 years in California and Oregon, he became a U.S. citizen in 1998 shortly before his 42nd birthday. After Pope John Paul II appointed him as auxiliary bishop of Chicago, Pope Benedict XVI named Garcia-Siller archbishop of San Antonio in 2010.
Garcia-Siller isn’t the only religious leader to speak out against Trump in recent days, with liberal church officials denouncing the president for his recent broadsides against Democratic minority lawmakers. Pope Francis has been open about his disdain for Trump’s immigration policies, namely his wall at the southern border, saying that a fear of migrants “makes us crazy.” In July, 11 leaders of Catholic and Protestant groups in Maryland, including two Baltimore bishops, issued a public letter imploring Trump to “stop putting people down,” according to the Associated Press. Earlier this month, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, the only black archbishop in the U.S., accused the president of “diminishing our national life.” Last week, Washington National Cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Church, condemned Trump’s racist rhetoric in a statement entitled, “Have We No Decency? A response to President Trump.”
“We feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?” the cathedral’s leaders wrote.
Prominent figures on the religious right have either remained silent on the issue or maintained that Trump’s rhetoric reflects politics rather than racism. “He does not judge people by the color of their skin,” the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch First Baptist Dallas, told the AP. “He judges people on whether they support him. If you embrace him, he’ll embrace you. If you attack him, he’ll attack you. That’s the definition of colorblind.”
Ahead of Trump’s Wednesday visit to El Paso, Garcia-Siller had the border city on his mind. Months earlier, the archbishop preached empathy during a February visit to El Paso, coming to see for himself what Trump had described as a “humanitarian crisis.” Instead, he said he found that claims of a “national emergency” were “a lie,” according to Catholic News Agency, and that the real crisis was in supporting the migrants and “how we are going to take care of those who are discriminated against, and those who are disadvantaged.”
He echoed that sentiment Tuesday.
“There is growing fear and harassment, and at times American public discourse uses rhetoric that instigates fear against foreigners, immigrants and refugees,” he said. “We must pray fervently for peace amidst all of the violence, which seems to be overwhelming our society. We must be lights in the darkness.”