Immigrants 'overwhelm' Catholic churches
By Martin Beckford
Last Updated: 1:48am GMT 16/02/2007
Catholic churches are struggling to cope with huge numbers of new worshippers arriving in Britain from Eastern Europe, according to a new report.
In at least three London parishes, more than three-quarters of those attending Mass were found to be illegal immigrants, while others are using churches as job centres and social welfare offices.
It is not known exactly how many Catholic worshippers are now in Britain, because of the unknown number of illegal immigrants, but their numbers are expected to rise by hundreds of thousands over the next few years while Church of England congregations face a slow decline.
Researchers at the Von Hugel Institute at St Edmund's College, Cambridge, interviewed 1,000 migrants as well as members of the clergy to find out how the Church is being transformed by mass immigration from countries such as Poland, where up to 95pc of new arrivals to Britain are practising Catholics.
Their report states: “The Catholic Church is undergoing a shift in its ethnic make-up, social diversity and relationship with the rest of the international Catholic community.
“Regular and irregular migration into Britain is a key driver of this process.
“These changes have been variously described as the Catholic community's 'greatest opportunity' and 'its greatest threat'.
“The Church has responded instinctively and positively in many cases. In others it has been overwhelmed by the scale of the new challenge.”
The report adds that thousands of the Catholics now living in Britain are illegal immigrants.
It states: “It is of critical importance for the Cardinal, archbishops and bishops to appreciate the extent to which they are ministering to a church whose baptised members live in fear, and at grave risk, because of their 'irregular' status.”
Half of the Catholic immigrants interviewed by researchers were from Central and Eastern Europe while the others came from Africa, Latin America and Asia, including the Philippines