Pastoral Care for ethnically-mixed couples: Declan McSweeney forwarded a letter which is being published with his permission.

I would urge Catholic priests to look at the issue of pastoral care for ethnically-mixed couples, where one is white Irish and the other an immigrant of a different skin colour or their son or daughter.

The racism such couples often encounter is described here:

As one with personal knowledge of all this, I would plead with the Church to take this issue seriously. This means firstly being aware of the matter and realising that such couples often face additional pressures to those where both are white or both black.

On the other hand, many such couples get on well in their neighbourhoods, and the key issue is how the white family responds to the black or brown or yellow partner. I would urge you to have an insight into what it’s like to be a stranger who feels unwelcome in a town, blamed for everything that goes wrong in your spouse’s life even when it’s down to economic circumstances or other factors, the acute damage to mental health, etc.

As far as clergy are concerned, this means listening to and getting to know the new arrival, and understand why they may find the environment difficult. In extreme cases, as I can describe from personal experience, it means having to move away from Ireland, but that should be a last resort, and I would hope clergy could help to see if there are other options.

It may mean, to put it bluntly, confronting the white partner’s family of origin and  asking them how they reconcile their racism with their faith. Given that the black or Asian partner may be of another Christian denomination, there is very much an ecumenical dimension, with a need for co-operation with other denominations, including the Pentecostal churches.

I have often said that a pastor’s priority, in interchurch situations (whether both white or not) should be to get to know the spouse who is NOT of their church, without trying to convert them, but to work in conjunction with the other church to give the support needed to ensure marital success, which should be the top priority for everybody.

I just feel that some clergy don’t grasp how racism affects couples.

Yours faithfully,

Declan McSweeney

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One Comment

  1. Mary Vallely says:

    I am so glad to see the topic of racism raised on this forum as it is something I believe many of us have not honestly acknowledged, the fact that there might just be a little bit of racism in ourselves, deep down. After all, for too long we have mainly been a nation of white skinned people and have not enjoyed the richness of diversity other races and cultures can bring. We are all made in the image of God after all. It seems ludicrous that many Christ followers do not accept that.

    There are many problems of course that any mixed couple face in society today but it beggars belief that they would find discrimination in a Catholic Church community. My younger daughter is married to a native of Bangalore who has not yet managed to secure a visa to live and work here after 28 months but Tarun has experienced very little discrimination when he has been here on long visits. Just one episode of name calling. He has been warmly welcomed by both Catholic and Baptist communities here.

    As a native of Armagh I grew up with the term “black” as meaning a white non Catholic, a Protestant, and there were an awful lot of them in neighbouring Portadown!! However, thank God, we have grown up a bit here in the North and are learning to integrate and show respect for one another a little more than before.

    It is shameful to think that many Irish Catholics in America carry an element of racism in their attitudes and behaviour but the attitude in this country towards Travellers and migrants who are suffering under Direct Provision is a sad indictment of our society. Where is Catholic Social Teaching in all of this?

    I do think that we need to constantly reflect on our own attitudes to those of a different skin colour and/or culture in our daily and nightly prayers.
    My heart goes out to all those brave souls in mixed marriages or long term relationships. Unlike the attitude to our LGBT sisters and brothers in our Church which is deeply, deeply offensive ( see the latest happenings in Poland with the bishops there advocating Conversion Therapy) there is nothing written down which promotes racism. ‘Intrinsically disordered’ only applies to non heterosexuals.

    Are our parish communities welcoming places for migrants, Travellers and couples who are of mixed ethnicity? Do priests who, after all, have the privilege of preaching at Sunday masses use that time to emphasise that welcome?
    Perhaps they could share ideas here on how to assure those who feel unwanted or unwelcome in our faith communities. There are many good examples of this and I’d like to think my own parish works hard at welcoming the stranger.

    Finally Declan makes a very valid point.

    “ I have often said that a pastor’s priority, in interchurch situations (whether both white or not) should be to get to know the spouse who is NOT of their church, without trying to convert them, but to work in conjunction with the other church to give the support needed to ensure marital success, which should be the top priority for everybody.”

    Do we still need to educate our priests and parish committees to understand and accept other faiths without feeling the need to proselytise? How many still believe ‘Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus?’ I wonder…

    Thank you very much to Declan and to the ACP moderator for highlighting this issue.

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