Roman Catholic leaders in Britain and in Poland have publicly disagreed over how best to provide pastoral care for large numbers of Polish migrants currently living and working in the United Kingdom - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.
"It remains our position that Polish Catholics should look for their own priests and parishes," Bishop Ryszard Karpinski, the Polish church's delegate, told Ecumenical News International on 18 January. "But we've no means of forcing anyone. If people want to come to Polish churches, they come," he said. "If they want to go to English-speaking services, they go."
The 72-year-old bishop was speaking following some strong reactions to a December interview by the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, during which he said he was concerned Polish migrants were "creating a separate church in Britain".
More than two million Poles have left their country since it joined the European Union in May 2004, of whom at least half have gone to Britain and Ireland, according to EU data.
The Polish Catholic church runs a special mission, currently numbering 114 priests in 219 pastoral centres throughout England and Wales, which follows a programme set by Polish bishops.
Several British church leaders have called for greater efforts to integrate migrant Catholics, who have substantially boosted Mass attendance in British parishes. In a 12 December interview with Poland's Catholic information agency KAI, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said Polish Catholics could become "a major force" in local church life by helping to evangelise, but he added he was also concerned that "Poles are creating a separate church".
He said he hoped they would integrate with British parishes "as soon as possible when they learn enough of the language".
However, the call appeared to be contradicted in a Christmas message by Poland's Roman Catholic primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who appealed to migrant Catholics to "seek out Polish pastors" and "find Polish church centres".
Several British-based Poles reacted sharply to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's appeal, including the Polish Mission's deputy rector, Grazyna Sikorska, who said she felt "spiritually raped".
A Polish school director in Oxford, Hanna Darowska, told ENI most Polish churches were already full. She added that Polish identity was strongly linked with Roman Catholicism both at home and abroad, and said Polish churches also played a key role in providing help and advice to migrants.
"You can't instruct people where to encounter God - you should let them choose," said the director, Hanna Darowska. "The English [Catholic] church should be pleased its parishioners have increased and not try to destroy Polish churches, which were built up with great difficulty over so many years."
Tadeusz Kukla, the rector of the Polish Mission, which described Britain in a recent statement as a "godless civilisation", told ENI only 8 percent of Polish migrants regularly attended Mass regularly in Britain. Integration is "a task for a whole generation", he stated.
Alexander Desforges, the director for news and information of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, said the pastoral needs of migrants were the subject of "ongoing discussions" at diocesan level, but said there had been no "specific proposals" for revising a 1948 accord establishing the Polish Mission.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]