The entire refugee resettlement programme has been suspended for 120 days

President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States has brought an outcry from Catholic leaders across the US.

Church leaders used phrases such as “devastating” and “cruel” to describe the action that left already-approved refugees and immigrants stranded at US airports and led the Department of Homeland Security to rule that green card holders – lawful permanent US residents – be allowed into the country.

“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in US history,” Chicago Cardinal Blase J Cupich said in a statement on Sunday.

“The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.

“Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States,” he said.

“They have left people holding valid visas and other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at the elevenths hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.”

President Trump’s action suspends the entire US refugee resettlement programme for 120 days and bans entry from all citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia – for 90 days.

It also establishes religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said: “This week the Statue of Liberty lowered its torch in a presidential action which repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression. We cannot and will not stand silent.”

Shortly after Trump signed the document at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, Bishop Joe S Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the bishops “strongly disagree” with the action to halt refugee resettlement.

“We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” Bishop Vasquez said.

The USCCB runs the largest refugee resettlement programme in the United States, and Bishop Vasquez said the church would continue to engage the administration, as it had with administrations for 40 years.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington called attention to the USCCB statement and the executive action and noted that “the legal situation is still fluid and news reports are sometimes confusing.”

“The political debate, which is complex and emotionally highly charged, will continue, but we must do our best to remain focused on the pastoral and very real work we undertake every day for the vulnerable and most in need,” he said.

Around the country, people gathered at airports to express solidarity with immigrants and green card holders denied admission, including an Iraqi who had helped the 101st Airborne during the Iraqi war.

More than 550 people gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House on Sunday to celebrate Mass in solidarity with refugees.

In a letter to the president and members of Congress, more than 2,000 religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition objected to the action.