LONSDALE, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — A civil rights group is calling on Minnesota’s Roman Catholic church leaders to reject a sermon in which a priest in the southern part of the state described Islam as a threat to the U.S. and Christianity.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Wednesday that the Minnesota Catholic Conference should repudiate the Jan. 5 sermon by the Rev. Nick VanDenBroeke in which he said that Islam was the “greatest threat in the world” to the United States and Christianity.

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CAIR’s request came after the newspaper City Pages published an article Wednesday about the sermon. VanDenBroeke did not immediately reply to phone or email messages left by The Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic Conference told the Star Tribune that the group’s response would be coming from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which oversees the Lonsdale parish. Archbishop Bernard Hebda told the Star Tribune in an e-mail that he had not yet spoken with VanDenBroeke.

But Hebda said that the church’s teaching is clear, and he quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying that the church looks with esteem to Muslims, who worship God through prayer, fasting and the giving of alms.

“If all of us who believe in God desire to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism,” Hebda said. He added that Pope Francis also has stressed the importance of dialogue between Catholics and Muslims and has urged all Christians and Muslims to be “true promoters of mutual respect and friendship, in particular through education.”

The homily was recorded and posted on the church’s website.

VanDenBroeke said parishioners must remember that immigrants are humans deserving of compassion. But he added that sovereign nations have the right and responsibility to control their borders to protect their citizens and lands.

“Both as Americans and as Christians, we do not need to pretend that everyone who seeks to enter America needs to be treated the same,” he said. “I believe it is essential to consider the religion and worldview of the immigrants or refugees.

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“More specifically, we should not be allowing large numbers of Muslims (seeking) asylum or immigration into our country. Islam is the greatest threat in the world both to Christianity and to America,” he said.

VanDenBroeke urged his parishioners to oppose Muslim immigration. He also said he believes that young immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children, should have a path to citizenship. And he said that he thinks the country’s immigration system could be easily fixed if a wall were built to close the southern border to curb future illegal immigration and “at the same time provide a path to legal citizenship for those who have been living here, who can prove they’re not criminals, they’re living good and peaceful lives, they’re willing to work and pay taxes and be responsible.”

VanDenBroeke released this statement Wednesday night:

My homily on immigration contained words that were hurtful to Muslims.  I’m sorry for this.  I realize now that my comments were not fully reflective of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam.

Archbishop Hebda also released this statement after speaking with Father VanDenBroeke:

I have spoken with Father VanDenBroeke about his homily on immigration and he has expressed sorrow for his words and an openness to seeing more clearly the Church’s position on our relationship with Islam. The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear. As Pope Benedict XVI noted, “The Catholic Church, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, looks with esteem to Muslims, who worship God above all by prayer, almsgiving and fasting, revere Jesus as a prophet while not acknowledging his divinity, and honour Mary, his Virgin Mother.”  He called upon the Church to persist in esteem for Muslims, who “worship God who is one, living and subsistent; merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity.”  If all of us who believe in God desire to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism.

That continues to be our teaching today.  Pope Francis has echoed Pope Benedict, stating that it is important to intensify the dialogue between Catholics and Islam.  He has emphasized “the great importance of dialogue and cooperation among believers, in particular Christians and Muslim, and the need for it to be enhanced.”  He has called for all Christians and Muslims to be “true promoters of mutual respect and friendship, in particular through education.”

I am grateful for the many examples of friendship that have been offered by the Muslim community in our region and we are committed to strengthening the relationship between the two communities.

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