VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis backed the Catholic bishops in the United States who condemned the practice of separating children from parents after families are caught crossing the U.S-Mexico border illegally, according to an interview published Wednesday.
Francis was asked about the family-separation policy during the interview with Reuters conducted Sunday. The pope replied: "Let it be clear that on these things I respect" the bishops' stance.
Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who heads the U.S. bishops' conference, said last week that "separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."
Francis said during the Vatican interview that his position on both that issue and U.S. developments in general "lines up with the Episcopate."
"I take the side of the Episcopate and stand behind them. Not to wash my hands, but because I don't know well things from there," Reuters quoted the pontiff saying.
He recalled celebrating Mass near the border during his 2016 visit to Mexico.
Cardinal DiNardo said in a June 13 statement that he was joining Bishop Joe Vasquez, who chairs the conference's committee on migration, in "condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the (Trump) administration's zero-tolerance policy."
However, Francis told Reuters that the problem with American immigration policy "isn't just Trump's, but also of the governments before."
Elsewhere in the interview, Francis was asked for his solutions within the context of Europe's mass migration debate.
Italy's new populist government this month refused to give a Mediterranean Sea rescue ship carrying 630 migrants permission to dock. The country's right-wing interior minister also criticized the pope for urging people to show more solidarity with migrants, saying Francis should take more new arrivals at the Vatican.
"It's not easy, but populisms aren't the solution," the pope said.
He added: "I believe you mustn't push back people who arrive, you must receive them, help" them, as well as "see where they will be put, but everywhere in all of Europe. Italy and Greece have been courageous and generous in welcoming these people."
Francis also was asked for his opinion on the Trump administration's decisions to withdraw the United States from an international accord on climate change and to take "steps backward in relations with Cuba."
The pope helped broker the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States under U.S. President Barack Obama.
"About Cuba, I was saddened because it was a good step forward, but I don't want to judge because to take a decision of that kind, he (Trump) would have had some motive," Francis said.
Francis also has spoken out about the threat of global warming and urged oil company executives to work on finding clean energy sources.
"Yes, President Trump's decision on Paris caused me some pain because the future of humanity is at stake," he said. "But he sometimes makes it understood that he will rethink it, and I hope that he'll rethink well the Paris accords."