Posted on October 18, 2004

Births Must Keep Up With Immigrants, Cardinal Tells Catholics

James Kirkup,, Oct. 16

CARDINAL Keith O’Brien has said that Catholics must have more children or face seeing their faith eclipsed by the religions of immigrants.

In remarks that risk sparking political anger, he said members of the Church hierarchy fear immigrant groups could “take over” in western European countries because they have more children than indigenous Christians.

The Scottish Executive wants to encourage more immigrants to come to Scotland, while the Tories warned earlier this month that, uncurbed, the flow of migrants into the UK could threaten traditional British values.

Recalling a trip to Vienna, Cardinal O’Brien, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, described the fears of a guide who showed him around the Austrian capital. “She said: ‘You know, we are losing our Christian Catholic community. We are not having babies, but the immigrants, they love babies, love families, love family life, have many many children, and soon they will be taking over’,” Cardinal O’Brien said, adding: “Basically, that reflects the views of some of our own Church leaders at this time.”

The cardinal did not mention any particular group of immigrants or name any religion, but other Catholic leaders have publicly said they are worried that rising Muslim immigration to Europe could tip the demographic balance against their faith.

Ministers and business leaders have argued that more immigration is the answer to labour shortages, and the cardinal lent some support to that effort earlier this year, encouraging Canadians of Scots descent to return to the country. But he suggested that, for Catholics in Scotland, the focus should be on increasing the number of children they have. “I would say to our own people, have a look around, remember the joys of your own family,” he said.

The cardinal’s remarks about immigration were made in a BBC radio interview broadcast last month. It can still be heard on the BBC’s website.

Last night, a spokesman for the cardinal said he “totally accepts” the case for encouraging immigration and was simply drawing attention to the “dramatic” variation in the birth rates of different groups. He said the Church in Scotland was not concerned by immigration, although other Church leaders elsewhere in Europe may feel otherwise.

The cardinal is passing the first anniversary of his appointment, and is today interviewed in The Scotsman to mark the occasion.