Pope Calls Texas Suit against Annunciation House ‘Madness’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In a televised interview, Pope Francis denounces the Texas attorney general’s attempt to shut down an organization that serves migrants and praises Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso.

By Kate Scanlon, OSV News

(OSV News) — Pope Francis called Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to shut down El Paso’s Annunciation House, a Catholic nonprofit serving migrants, “madness” during an interview with CBS News.

In the pontiff’s first one-on-one interview with a U.S. broadcaster, CBS journalist and interviewer Norah O’Donnell asked, “The State of Texas is attempting to shut down a Catholic charity on the border with Mexico that offers undocumented migrants humanitarian assistance. What do you think of that?”

“That is madness. Sheer madness,” Pope Francis replied.

“Over there, in Texas, there is a great bishop, Bishop Seitz; he is right there at the border. That man does the impossible to help the migrants, right?” Pope Francis added, referring to El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz.

Paxton’s renewed effort to shut down Annunciation House comes just months after his previous effort was blocked by a state judge.

Paxton’s office said May 8 it filed an application for a temporary injunction against Annunciation House, accusing it of “systemic criminal conduct in Texas,” including facilitating illegal border crossings or concealing “illegally present aliens” from law enforcement.

Annunciation House’s lawyer said those are false allegations.

A spokesperson for the attorney general did not immediately respond to a request from OSV News for comment about the pope’s statement.

CBS News also spoke with Bishop Seitz, who has vocally defended Annunciation House and its work.

“This type of accusation puts fear into the hearts of anyone who generously gives of their time because of the Christian concern for people who are truly the poorest of the poor among us, people who have no place to go, nothing to eat, no clothes,” Bishop Seitz told CBS News.

Annunciation House Executive Director Ruben Garcia told KVIA-TV it was “affirming” to hear the pope’s comments.

“That he would focus specifically on Texas, that he would focus specifically in El Paso, and the situation that Annunciation House finds itself in right now with the attorney general, it’s truly gratifying,” Garcia said.

Paxton’s effort targeting Annunciation House also has prompted concern from local officials, including Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents a district that includes El Paso.

In its filing, Paxton’s office sought to downplay the “religious component” of Annunciation House’s mission, arguing, “Instead, Annunciation House’s members appear to subscribe to a more Bohemian set of ‘seven commandments,’ including commandments to ‘visit’ people when ‘incarcerated’ and “care (for them) when they’re sick.”

However, those quotes come from a witness who appeared to be referring to what the Catholic Church calls the “seven corporal works of mercy,” according to a review of the document by OSV News.

The cited witness testimony about the group’s mission was: “From my understanding, it’s clothe people who need — like clothes, feeding people who are hungry, taking care of someone when they’re sick, visiting me if I’m incarcerated, I think is one of them. I can’t say all of them.” The witness added, “I’m still new to Catholicism.”

The seven corporal works of mercy are charitable actions based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly in Matthew 25, which he commands his followers to carry out in order to have eternal life with him in heaven. They are: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead.

Annunciation House operates several shelters in the El Paso area, helping migrants and refugees with food, housing and other assistance, as well as providing information about how to fill out the required legal documents to seek asylum in the U.S.

Featured image: Pope Francis waves to visitors in St. Peter’s Square while riding the popemobile after his general audience at the Vatican May 22, 2024. (CNS photo/Pablo Esparza)

Magazine Past Issues

About the author

OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics. It is a part of OSV Publishing, a division of OSV, the largest English-language Catholic publishing company in the United States. OSV, based in Huntington, Indiana, was founded in 1912.