In recent weeks, we have seen the churches play a key role in the efforts to welcome Ukrainian refugees, with priests’ houses and convents among the buildings used to house them.
This reflects a wider trend in which church leaders have urged Irish people to welcome migrants, just as the Irish were welcomed in other lands down the centuries.
In this article, I wish to focus on the Catholic Church, though doubtless much of what I say applies to other denominations also.
I am well aware that Catholic schools have played a key role in the integration of children who are either themselves migrants or the Irish-born children of such migrants, whether from Europe, Africa, Asia or Latin America, and whether or not the same children come from Catholic families.
Many such schools have made wonderful efforts in this regard, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Nonetheless, questions need to be asked about an apparent contradiction between this emphasis on welcome, and the fact that bishops and parish priests seem reluctant to take action when individuals with a very racist outlook assume leadership roles in their parishes.
The willingness to condemn racist attacks in the public sphere is welcome: ( Ireland: Bishop voices concern at attack on politician’s car | ICN (indcatholicnews.com) but we should not ignore the existence of racist attitudes among Ministers of the Word and the Eucharist and other lay parish leaders.
While there have been cases of individuals being asked to step down from such roles for their views on such matters as abortion legislation: (Social Democrat banned from reading at Mass due to abortion views (irishtimes.com), ,
I am not aware of any case of someone being asked to vacate parish ministry over a hostile attitude to migrants.
I am aware of one diocese in the Republic where this is a particular problem and where diocesan authorities have failed to take action though the matter was drawn to their attention for the last four years.
In one parish, a man whose social media posts claimed migrants were a drain on the economy, that there were too many involved in crime and that they were a ‘Trojan horse’ for terrorism was appointed to chair the board of management of a large primary school AFTER the parish clergy were informed about his posts.
Another man with a marked hatred for black people and Muslims was given a leadership role in a major Catholic organisation. Bishops such as Kevin Doran of Elphin and Phonsie Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore have condemned ‘traditionalist’ Catholics who combine a strong commitment to ‘Catholic values’ with racism and, in particular, Islamophobia: Bishop criticizes ‘faith-filled’ Catholics who spread fear of Muslims | Crux (cruxnow.com) and Bishop slams attempts to stir up fear between Christians and Muslims – Independent.ie
Nonetheless, other dioceses seem reluctant to challenge racist parish leaders over how they can reconcile racism and Catholicism. I would urge clergy to make clear to them that they have to make a choice, that they cannot have it both ways.
A further issue is the situation of ethnically-mixed couples, who sometimes encounter prejudice from family members who see themselves as being good Catholics. There is a reluctance on the part of clergy to combat such prejudice, particularly when the family members in question are prominent Catholics, leaving such couples feeling abandoned and betrayed by the clergy.
Given the decline in church attendance in the Republic in the last 30 years, and given that in so many parishes migrants play a vital role in filling the pews vacated by the natives, one would have thought it would be in the self-interest of the Church to take a clear stance on this matter.
Declan McSweeney lives in England but is originally from Offaly. He worked for over 18 years for the now-closed Offaly Express and has also worked as a journalist in the UK.