Churchgoers in the diocese of Westminster have been urged to help neighbours and fellow parishioners from the EU with the Home Office’s ‘unprincipled’, ‘unjust’ and ‘divisive’ settlement scheme for fear they will be deported if they don’t register.
Last Sunday, parishes were directed to a statement made by the Bishop Hertfordshire Paul McAleenan on behalf of the Conference of Bishops just over a fortnight ago.
The 67-year old Irish cleric from Belfast who studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, in Thurles, Co. Tipperary and started as a priest in Chiswick, West London said the Catholic Church in this country is strongly opposed to the scheme for its inherent unfairness requiring people to apply for rights they already have and be charged for it – not least because so many EU citizens affected by it are Catholics – but recognises that unless they comply they will lose their rights and homes.
Bishop McAleenan, a Belfast man, is the lead Catholic Bishop for Migration and Asylum.
In his statement, on behalf of all of the Catholic Church in this country, he says:
“The Catholic Church in England and Wales stands in solidarity with all EU citizens who have made their home here.
“As the majority are themselves Catholic this is a special pastoral concern for us.
“The Church has experienced first-hand the extensive contribution that people from across Europe have made to our society.
“They are an integral and valued part of our parishes, schools and communities.
“We also recognise the evidence that immigration from Europe has not undermined opportunities for UK citizens, but rather brought considerable economic and social benefits.
“It is clear that, since the 2016 referendum, many people living here have faced profound uncertainty and insecurity about their future.
“Although the reassurances offered by senior politicians are important, people have been given far too little information or binding commitments about their right to stay.
“For some, this has been worsened by the appalling rise in hate crime, which has left them feeling unwelcome or even threatened in the country that has become their home.
“The government will soon launch a Settlement Scheme, offering EU citizens living here a legal route to remain.
“While this is an important step we understand that, especially for people who have contributed to our society over many years, it may feel unjust and divisive that they are now required to apply for permission to stay.
“We also expect that some people, particularly those who are already vulnerable, may face difficulties in practically accessing the scheme, leaving their immigration status at risk.
“We strongly oppose the decision to charge people for securing the rights they already have.
“This is not only unprincipled but will also create a barrier for larger families or people facing financial difficulties.
“The Bishops’ Conference has made representations on these issues to ministers and through the Home Office working groups set up to discuss the Settlement Scheme.
“We will continue to do so as it is implemented.
“Notwithstanding our concerns about these principles and practicalities, it remains a fact that EU citizens must apply if they are to protect their existing rights and their place in our society.
“We therefore ask Catholic parishes, schools and organisations to bring the Settlement Scheme to the attention of all who need to avail of it and to be aware of vulnerable people who may face barriers to applying or not realise that they need to apply.
“In particular we encourage you to signpost people towards the official information on the Settlement Scheme: www.gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families and to make use of the various information resources available: gov.uk/government/publications/eu-settlement-scheme-community-leaders-toolkit
“We urge the whole Catholic community to take up Pope Francis’ call to welcome, protect, promote and help to integrate everyone who has made their home here – with particular concern at present for our European brothers and sisters.”
The Home Office responded with this statement:
“The EU Settlement Scheme will make it simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need.
“We are already working with NHS Trusts, universities, local authorities and the voluntary and community sector to pilot the scheme and have announced £9 million of funding to support the voluntary and community sector to help ensure that every EU citizen who is eligible to stay has their status protected.
“We also welcome the support of the wider voluntary and community sector if they choose to provide reassurance and help to EU citizens and their family members.”