Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic bishops and relief leaders were among the critics of President Donald Trump’s order to implement stricter vetting on refugees and lower the cap for the number of refugees who can enter the United States.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, in his role as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the U.S. bishops “strongly disagree” with the halt on refugee admissions. “We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” he said Jan. 27. “We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.”

The bishops said they believe in aiding everyone vulnerable who is fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion, the Austin bishop said. “We need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country,” Bishop Vasquez continued. “They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va. said the U.S. bishops’ statement “highlighted our nation’s long and proud tradition of welcoming newcomers and refugees in a humane manner, even as we have pursued a strong vetting system to ensure our safety and security.”

Bishop Burbidge encouraged Catholics to contact their elected officials to oppose the new policy. “(O)ur communities have been and will continue to be hospitable to refugees, in keeping with our legacy of welcoming the stranger,” he said. “Together, we also pray for comprehensive immigration reform and for peace, safety and harmony within our nation and throughout the world.”

The bishops responded to a new presidential executive order announced on Friday. “I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States,” President Trump had said signing the order. “We don't want ‘em here. We want to ensure we aren’t admitting into our country the very threats that our men and women are fighting overseas.”

The executive order itself does not mention Islam. It bars U.S. entry for visitors from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for three months and places broader restrictions on the U.S. refugee program. Before signing the executive order, President Trump told Christian Broadcasting News that he would prioritize persecuted Christian refugees.

“We are going to help them,” the president said. “They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States?”

The executive order’s text does not mention Christianity either. It instructs officials involved in refugee entry “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of national.”

The executive order also said the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in 2017 is detrimental to U.S. interest and should be suspended until further notice. Last year, the U.S. legal cap on refugees was 117,000 people, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports. However, only about 85,000 refugees actually entered the U.S. that year, the Pew Research Center reports. Of these, 38,901 were Muslim and 37,521 were Christian.

Some critics have voiced concern that the lower cap on refugees would mean fewer persecuted Christians could secure legal entry even if given priority treatment. The president raised the possibility of a ban on Muslim immigration during his presidential campaign, but has objected to depictions of his new policy as a “Muslim ban.”

The executive order swiftly drew several legal challenges and prompted several mass protests at airports around the country, but it is unclear how unpopular it will prove with Americans as a whole. Catholic relief leaders also criticized the order. “People seeking refuge in the United States and elsewhere are victims — often of the same terrorists from whom we must protect ourselves,” Sean Callahan, Catholic Relief Services president and CEO, said Jan. 27.

“We know the people most affected by extremists and conflict. They are people like all Americans, seeking safety and a better life for their families. In fact, in our work around the world, we depend on many of them for our own safety. They need our help - now!”

“People fleeing violence all suffer the same irrespective of their religion. Refugee admissions should not depend on religion. As Catholics we feel the responsibility to help all those in need,” added Bill O’Keefe, Catholic Relief Services’ vice-president of government relations and advocacy. “The most vulnerable people fleeing violence will suffer the most because of these restrictions,” he said.

“The Iraqi women I met have already suffered from ‘extreme vetting’ just getting out of Islamic State controlled areas in the middle of the night with their children.” “Taking fewer refugees betrays the trust of refugee hosting allies as well as vulnerable refugees,” he added. O’Keefe said that security assessments by new presidential administrations are expected but should be “conducted in good faith and rapidly.”

Bishop Vasquez said over 65 million people have been displaced from their homes worldwide. He said the Catholic Church will respond to this “extraordinary level of suffering.”