The Archbishop of Westminster said that some national newspapers stirred up xenophobia ahead of the Brexit vote

Our natural humanity is being “corroded by fear” as the refugee crisis in Europe continues, the Archbishop of Westminster said last week.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols identified a “hardening of attitudes” towards refugees, attributing the rise in intolerance to “a fostering of a climate of fear” by parts of the media, which made finding solutions more difficult.

The cardinal made the comments at a press conference following a four-day plenary session of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, held at Hinsley Hall, Leeds, last week, during which the bishops discussed post-referendum European migration and refugees.

Cardinal Nichols said: “We prayed a lot for the situation in Ukraine, where there are two million displaced people within the country. We also prayed for the people of Iraq, Aleppo, Mosul and South Sudan.” He said the situation was worsening in South Sudan.

The bishops welcomed the Community Sponsorship Scheme, an initiative launched by the Home Office in association with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The scheme encourages community groups, including churches and charities, to help support vulnerable refugees with basic needs such as housing, and donations of goods when they arrive in Britain.

On Brexit, Cardinal Nichols said that for the Catholic Church the result of the EU referendum “does not alter our relationships within our major complex of partnerships that spread across Europe. We’re not distancing ourselves from Europe as a continent, as a culture or as a shared heritage of faith.”

Referring to the Catholic Church’s position, Cardinal Nichols said: “Our main concern will be to continue to keep an eye on and [give] practical help for the poorest, whose circumstances will probably worsen in the next two or three years.”

Cardinal Nichols said that the Year of Mercy, which had just come to an end, had resulted in a great increase in attendance at Confession across the country. He mentioned the Mercy Bus in Salford which invited people to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Year of Mercy, he said, had also led to “in-depth inter-faith discussions with Muslim leaders, Jewish rabbis and Catholic priests and bishops, unfolding what mercy means in the different religious traditions”.

Among the resolutions passed at the plenary session, one was to support the proposal for a Eucharistic Pilgrimage and Congress to take place in Liverpool in September 2018. The last congress was held in Birmingham in 2005.

A second resolution concerned a campaign to give ex-offenders a better chance in the jobs market. The “Ban the Box” campaign calls for the abolition of a tick-box on application forms requiring people who have completed a prison sentence to declare it – which “so very often means the end of a job application”, said Bishop Richard Moth, the lead bishop for prisons.

The bishops agreed to “ban the box” in their diocesan recruitment practices and call for its wider banning.

A third resolution was to encourage the use of practical resources provided by Cafod in response to the environmental encyclical Laudato si.