Vatican officials: in supporting immigrants, the church is acting on principle, not pragmatism.

In Europe, as in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church has assumed a leading role as a protector of, and advocate for, immigrants. But whereas the largest bloc of migrants to the United States are Catholic, the majority of European immigrants are Muslim.

In the United States, some critics of the church accuse outspoken clerics such as Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles of self-interest when they support immigrant rights and immigration reform. There is logic to the argument because Latin American Catholics are pumping new life into a church that has been losing its hold on many native-born Americans.

Such an argument is more difficult to make in Europe, where the ranks of native-born Catholics are declining without being refreshed by large numbers of Catholic immigrants. Vatican officials say that, in supporting immigrants, the church is acting on principle, not pragmatism — and that the Catholic record in Europe lends credence to those who say that American bishops have pure intentions in their immigration advocacy.

“For the church, the perspective is … the right of the human person to be treated with dignity,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman. “It is a general principle; it’s not just a religious principle. It is more profound.”

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