Vatican backs church sit-ins as asylums battle continues

Brussels, Belguim - The Vatican's diplomatic representative in Belgium has backed the involvement of Catholic Church bishops in mounting protests against the federal government's asylum policy.

"The church has always chosen the side of the weakest. This problem deserves a political solution," the papal nuncio said via his secretary.

It is extremely exceptional for the nuncio to make a public statement, newspaper 'De Morgen' reported on Wednesday.

Church sit-in protests are being staged across much of country at present as illegal immigrants demonstrate against the government's immigration policies and demand official residency.

Interior Minister Dewael has refused to

grant an amnesty, however, claiming that many of the protestors have either failed to lodge an official request for residency or have previously had their applications turned down.

But as protests across the country continue, the papal nuncio has said the actions are "humane" and that "a solution must come from the politicians".

The nuncio said because the church sit-in protests do not represent a conflict between Church and State (or the Holy See and Belgium), he did not wish to comment further.

The spokesman for Belgian Cardinal Danneels, Hans Geybels, said the support from the papal nuncio was a "positive signal".

But bishops also realise that the deadlock between the government and protestors cannot continue.

"The solution cannot only come from the Belgian Church," Geybels said.

The church sit-ins will be high on the agenda at a conference of Belgian bishops on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Antwerp social security office OCMW has proposed ending the financial subsidies paid to the Sint-Egidius community monastery if it continues to support the protests.

OCMW council member Marco Laenens had been rounding up political support in recent days in a bid to withdraw the EUR 50,000 allocated to the Sint-Egidius community last year.

He abandoned his efforts when it was revealed the money had already been paid, but believes the monastery does not deserve any more funding.

Sint-Egidius community spokesman Jan De Volder said the monastery requested government support last year for the first time in its 11-year existence.

He said this was because the OCMW office was directing social security recipients to the monastery's charitable restaurant. Between 350 and 400 homeless and disadvantaged people eat at the restaurant twice per week.

De Volder said Laenens actions were blackmail and that the monastery's restaurant, Kamiano, was not involved in any of the church sit-in protests.