by lames Allen THE Catholic Church in Britain reflects much of the racism that pervades society, and black people are growing away from it as a result. That was the main conclusion of the report published yesterday by the all-black panel created to advise Cardinal Basil Hume on the Church's ministry to the black community.
The report, With You in Spirit?' also found that the virtual non-existence of priestly vocations among blacks was due to the inability of the young to identify with a white-run church; many priests were reluctant to accommodate black forms of worship in the liturgy; Catholic schools discriminated against black children both in their admissions policy and in the educational stimulus they offered.
including five non-Catholics, spent almost two years canvassing the views of clergy and black lay-people in Westminster Diocese.
There is not a single Britishborn black priest in the country despite a black Catholic population estimated at 50,000.
The panel heard complaints that white priests in black areas were often paternalistic and assimilationist, believing that the style of worship should reflect the tastes of the white majority. An example was the rejection of a request to include some Caribbean hymns in the Mass, on the grounds that their rhythms would be too hard for many to follow.
Such failure to acknowledge the uniqueness of black culture was particularly upsetting to the young. The report said many were either giving up religion or joining small, black-led Protestant churches that offered a greater sense of acceptance and identity.
Young blacks were increasingly aware of their own history and tended to identify today's priests with the colonialist missionaries of an earlier era.
The panel said young blacks were also being put off the Church by their experience of Catholic education. Catholic schools, they argued, were not immune from the criticism, voiced of British schools in general, that teachers underestimate the ability of black students and fail therefore to encourage them. Many students, for example, were being told to settle for CSEs instead of GCEs.
When the same students rebelled against the oppressive system, they were labelled disruptive, punished, and even expelled. Among complaints about admissions policy, the panel heard that blacks took second place to non-Catholic whites in competing for places. It was alleged that one London school even had a quota of four blacks in each year.
The panel said it had been unable to verify the allegation but recommended that ethnic admissions be monitored throughout the system to ensure that racist criteria were not being applied.
The report recommended setting up "shared faith" or "multi faith" schools where students would be taught to respect and value their different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
The Church was criticised for failure to enlist clearly in the fight against racism. Seminary training — given by blacks in how to combat racism was essential not only for priests who would be called to work in black areas. Priests in all-white churches could help by sensitising their parishioners to the problem.
Cardinal Hume, who attended the press conference held to launch the report, said he welcomed the panel's work, but with one reservation — that some excellent work on behalf of blacks in the past by priests and teachers had nbt been recognised.
He said it was urgent to encourage black vocations to the priesthood and he had instructed the diocesan committees dealing with education, youth work and training of priests to study the report carefully.
The cardinal also announced that in keeping with the panel's recommendations he was creating an all-black diocesan steering committee "not only to advise me on (the black community's) pastoral needs, but to act where appropriate with my authority."
The committee's first priority when it assembles in September will be the revamping of the diocese's Caribbean Pastoral Service, a body created in 1975 but today virtually inactive through a combination of internal dissensions and lack of clear guidelines.
According to the panel the service should be managed by a black layperson, instead of as now by a white priest, and should see to the regular celebration of Caribbean Masses and the setting up in parishes of black study and prayer groups.