The Pope (86) made the stereotypical claims during a short speech at an event on Wednesday, where he hosted the International Solidarity Fund - a group which aims to build a better world based on charity and equality.
Pope Francis, a Photographic Portrait of the People's Pope, Fr Michael Collins said the pontiff often speaks off the cuff.
“He certainly chose a very unfortunate set of words when he said, ‘the Irish brought whiskey to America and the Italians brought the Mafia’ because that makes the Irish out to be a load of drunks and the Italians to have done nothing else except bring the mafia to the states,” he told RTÉ’s
Fr Collins said since he became the head of the church in 2016, Pope Francis has always made impromptu speeches and he has said things in the moment which have unintentionally annoyed people.
Pope Francis’ father left Italy for a new life in Argentina and Fr Collins said the Pope made the comment about Irish and Italian people while talking about the importance of supporting immigrants.
“He’s very much the son of migrants and that’s what he was talking about on Wednesday,” he said,
“He said there’s no point in having somebody come as a migrant if you’re not going to allow them integrate and integration requires a great effort. It costs money… and that’s why he’s talking to the International Solidarity Fund, he’s trying to get them to empty their wallets.”
However, Fr Collins said Pope Francis only speaks in Spanish or Italian and nothing was “lost in translation” during the speech.
“He particularly sticks to those two languages, as Bishop of Rome he uses Italian all the time. So, there’s not lost in translation I’m afraid,” he said.
Fr Collins said the Francis’s impromptu speeches can sometimes create extra work for his advisers.
He added: “He’s his own man on that one because he does have actually a team of people and I know a couple of them and they more or less say ‘oh God, what’s he going to come out with now today’ and they get up in the morning wondering how they’re going to get this little communication blip over.
“That in a sense possibly could be his charm because he’s able to say these things and you either like him or loathe him and you take him or leave him. That’s more or less the way he operates,” Fr Collins said.
The comments had been described as “an ethnic slur” by Robert Mickens, the editor of
La Croix International, a Catholic newspaper.
“Francis is sensitive on other questions, but with comments like this you open a door and the risk is other people take it further,” he added.
Daniele Moro, the executive director of the US-Italy Global Affairs Forum, said: “I hope the Pope’s opinion was taken out of context — to link Irish and Italian [migration] only to whiskey and mafia is a really bad way to define US immigrants.” He added: “Millions of Americans of Italian origin, now at the third or fourth generation, have nothing to do with these stereotypes.”