Political parties at church gates told: go collect somewhere else
A Catholic diocese has sent a stern message to political parties which raise funds at the church gate - telling them to "go and collect somewhere else".
The Diocese of Elphin, led by Bishop Kevin Doran, has criticised political parties which seek to bolster funds through donations from the Catholic faithful while at the same time enacting laws which clash with Catholic teaching.
The diocese specifically criticised those political parties which have "consistently advocated policies and introduced legislation which undermine marriage and the right to life of the unborn" and yet "turn up outside our church gates, Sunday after Sunday, to ask Mass-goers to fund their activities".
Fine Gael collects considerable sums, but the figure was not readily available as local branches are permitted to keep the lion's share of it for their own activities. Fianna Fáil netted €200,000 nationally as recently as 2012.
A statement by the Diocese of Elphin said: "There is no obligation on any political party to support the Church, and certainly not to legislate in accordance with Church teaching."
It added that political parties are legally entitled to hold collections, but that in doing so they showed a lack of "respect for people's faith".
"Common decency would suggest that they go and collect somewhere else."
A Fine Gael official said collectors' permits are issued by local gardaí and not the Catholic Church and collections are not done on church property.
It is left up to discretion of local organisers, who generally liaise with local priests, and the understanding that all conflict or tension was to be avoided.
The collections are more widespread and lucrative outside Dublin, where the tradition holds. Neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael would comment on the Bishop of Elphin's stance and Fianna Fáil would not comment on the issue more generally.
A Labour spokesman said some of its local branches hold church gate collections. "But what happens outside the church gate is not a matter for the church authorities," the Labour official said.
Church gate permits require collectors to stand on the public pathway and not obstruct Mass-goers. Parishes are entitled to insist that collectors stay outside church grounds, according to Fr Micheál Murphy, a spokesman for the diocese of Kildare & Leighlin.
According to Fr Murphy: "The Church authorities would prefer that collectors do not collect within church grounds and at a respectable distance from church gates."
He said this applied to collections by any organisation, and not just political parties.
However, church-affiliated charities are sometimes permitted to collect within church grounds, such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Dublin told the Irish Independent that no political parties or political campaigning literature or collections are allowed inside churches or church grounds in Dublin.
She said that a collection held outside the gates of a church "is a matter for the civic authorities - the gardaí."
Bishop Kevin Doran is on retreat this week, and the Irish Independent was unable to contact him for further comment on the matter.