Tory travel ban hits visiting priests and Catholic church services
Catholic parishes across West Dunbartonshire face a scaled-down timetable of Masses over the summer after the UK Government blocked the visits of priests from Africa and Asia who traditionally supply in Scottish parishes.
The shock move means dozens of clergy who had planned to serve in parishes across Glasgow and the surrounding area have had their travel plans thwarted, while local priests face difficult decisions as they try to provide at least a skeleton cover of Masses over the holiday period.
A spokesman for Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, right, whose diocesan churches cover the area from Clydebank to Dumbarton, Renton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Rosneath, said: “The UK Immigration Minister, Caroline Noakes, announced a change in the law which explicitly prevents ‘Ministers of Religion’ from entering the country using a Tier 5 visa.
“We were not advised of this by the UK Border Agency despite the fact that they send frequent updates to us as a sponsoring body about much less drastic changes. It only came to light, buried on page 135 of a lengthy document, when processes began to invite clergy for the summer months.”
This visa is the route by which Glasgow Archdiocese, along with the other dioceses in Scotland, and also in England and Wales, brings clergy into our Archdiocese for summer supply. The effects of this change are therefore very serious.
Dumbarton and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie, left, said: ““This is yet another example of the impact that this Tory government’s hostile environment policy is having.
“Their policy failed to take account of Scottish University’s four- year courses. It sets arbitrary salary thresholds that would exclude 1.5 million Scots from working and it has now come to light that it’s excluding clergy from coming to the UK.
“This discrimination towards ministers of religion cannot be accepted. It is time that this abhorrent Tory policy is reversed.”
Anthony Horan, Catholic Church’s Parliamentary Officer, along with his counterpart in England and Wales has made representation to Caroline Noakes but she has expressed an unwillingness to meet with Church representatives or to discuss the new policy.
Archbishop Tartaglia and the other Bishops of Scotland have written a joint letter to the Immigration Minister expressing their concerns and the significant impact this will have on the Church.
Representation has also been made to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Scottish Government is powerless to act because all immigration policy is reserved to Westminster.
Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Mgr Paul Murray, said: “This is a significant problem for priests who have relied for many years on migrant clergy making it possible to get away at the summer.
“That’s not to mention the impact on the visiting priests themselves who, in many cases, depend on their summer placements to boost their income and contribute to their fees.
“In many cases, alternative arrangements will have to be considered for holiday cover if our interventions with Government prove unsuccessful.
“As things stand it will not be possible to bring any visiting clergy from outside the EEA into the Archdiocese.
“It will probably be necessary, as has happened successfully in other dioceses, that ‘skeleton’ or summer Mass schedules are put in place, allowing us to support one another in order to get the time off that we need. Discussion about this should probably take place as a matter of urgency at the local level of deaneries and clusters.”
Canon Gerry Conroy and St Patrick’s Church, Dumbarton.
Canon Gerry Conroy, parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, told parishioners: “It should also be noted that, although a priest from outside the EEA could visit for a holiday using a tourist visa, it would be against the law for him to exercise Ministry during the period of his stay. “
He added: “Just this week the Minister, Caroline Noakes, has expressed an unwillingness to meet with Church representatives or to discuss the new policy. The bishops of Scotland have written a joint letter to the Immigration Minister expressing our concerns and the significant impact this will have on us. Representation has also been made to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
“This is a significant problem for the coming summer months for many of us who have relied for many years on migrant clergy, making it possible for us to get a holiday at summer.”
Source: Flourish, Archdiocesan newspaper.