On the first Sunday of 2020, worshipers in Lonsdale—a town of roughly 4,000 in Rice County—gathered at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A few in attendance that day were a little disturbed by Father Nick VanDenBroeke’s homily.
VanDenBroeke, who has been the church’s pastor since 2017, delivered a special message for Immigration Sunday, which has been observed by Minnesota Catholics since 2009.
VanDenBroeke first observed immigration is not a “black and white issue”—unlike, say, “abortion” or “same-sex marriage,” which are “never acceptable.”
On the one hand, the priest said, our nation “has a right to protect its ideas and ideals.” On the other, “welcoming the stranger” and showing kindness to those in need is the prerogative of every good Christian.
VanDenBroeke had one key exception.
“Both as Americans and as Christians, we do not need to pretend that everyone who seeks to enter America should 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 asylum or immigration into our country.”
Islam, VanDenBroeke continued, is “the greatest threat in the world” to both Christianity and the United States, and it was the duty of the church to “[keep] bad ideas out of the country.”
“I’m not saying we hate Muslims,” he said. “They are people created out of love by God just as each one of us is. But while we certainly do not hate them as people, we must oppose their religion and worldview.”
He concluded that he’d like to see the implementation of both President Donald Trump’s wall with Mexico and a path to citizenship as an immigration compromise for the good of the nation. You can listen to the whole thing here.
VanDenBroeke didn’t respond to interview requests.
(UPDATE: VanDenBroeke issued a statement apologizing on Monday, after this story broke.)
VanDenBroeke also didn't respond to blogger Mary Hirsch, who heard about the homily from a friend and sent the priest an email letting him know she was “appalled.”
“Shame on you for furthering hate in your church, community, and worst of all your own heart,” Hirsch wrote.
It’s hard to separate VanDenBroeke's imperative to not let Muslims into the country from explicitly hating them. In a previous City Pages interview, journalist and sociologist Chip Berlet called anti-Muslim rhetoric (and its aftereffects) “scripted violence.” It’s a recurring pattern with different targets throughout history. Italians, Poles, Jews, and yes, Catholics, have been its previous victims.
“If you denounce a group long enough and often enough, someone will go out and attack them,” he said.
Let us close with a previous homily from VanDenBroeke’s repertoire, in which he said he believed Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was innocent of sexual assault allegations, and asked the congregation to pray for his appointment so he could roll back abortion rights.