February 8 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


We must not forgo our Faith to fit in

— Professor Patrick Reilly knows that all Catholics in Scotland should be welcomed and given equal rights without first having to forfeit our own identity but realises that this is not always the case experienced by the Faithful today

Behind the prolonged spat—somewhat contrived and factitious—over Media Office Director Peter Kearney’s remarks concerning the present position of Catholics in Scotland, there was one genuine misunderstanding, namely the failure to distinguish between two crucially different, yet easily confused, ideas as to how large groups of immigrants should be received into a new land. These two concepts are assimilation and integration.

The first insists that the newcomers should conform, as quickly as possible, to their new surroundings, adopting the beliefs and traditions of the host culture, with a view to becoming exactly the same. The second, in sharp contrast, envisages that the new immigrants, together with their own beliefs and traditions, should be welcomed and given equal rights, without first forfeiting their own identity. Only a society based on the integrationist model would truly qualify as a pluralist society—less would be a gross misappropriation of the name. In Scotland today, despite the constantly reiterated claims on behalf of its pluralism, such a society, and, as a corollary to this question, do Catholics in Scotland today have any cause to doubt if they are indeed fully integrated members of their society?


The situation is bedevilled today by a deliberate subversion of the long-accepted meaning of certain key words. The greatest single source of torment for the harassed hero of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is that, under Big Brother, words turn bewilderingly into the opposite of what they originally meant: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. Old meanings lie buried deep and inaccessible under new interpretations. In the end, Winston Smith is unable to find his way out of this manmade jungle of planned obfuscation. Scottish Catholics find themselves today snared in a similar predicament.

Consider the echoes of Orwellian Newspeak in current talk about pluralism, inclusion, toleration, marriage and others, Pluralism should mean a society in which different groups—political, ethnic, religious—have equal rights before the law and equal access to power, with none officially privileged above the rest. It had the original laudable aim of achieving social inclusion for all: no more inner exiles, second-class citizens, cultural ghetto-dwellers. Certain sinister developments are undermining this once admirable concept; it has been hi-jacked and taken to a destination where it was never meant to go. From being a boon and a deliverance, it has changed into a threat and an intimidation: compelle intrare, compel them to come in. It is one thing to insist that no one group should be forcibly excluded, quite another to demand compulsory incorporation—an invitation to dinner is a very different proposition when the host is Hannibal Lector.

Certain words are being redefined in the interests of one particular ideological group, voraciously intent upon acquiring power, over all the rest. Consider how the word ‘tolerate’ has been transformed today. Etymologically, to tolerate means to put up with, to treat with forbearance. We tolerate ‘bad’ things, not good. It would be nonsense to talk of tolerating one’s wife. Toleration is, or should be, a compromise between approval and repression. In the abstract, we may disapprove, for example, of promiscuity. We do not, however, confront it in the abstract, but concretely as behaviour, and we may, while disapproving of promiscuity, conclude that men should nevertheless be permitted this freedom to misbehave. Do the costs to society of promiscuity warrant using the law to suppress it and if the answer is ‘no,’ we must leave promiscuous men in peace, not because promiscuity is good, but because state repression is worse. It is altogether different when it is a question of drink-driving or wife-beating—such things are intolerable and cannot be tolerated.

But to tolerate is not to approve. A man may get drunk, gamble recklessly, be promiscuous, but he has no right to veto other people’s freedom to comment unfavourably on his behaviour: if he is free to act, they are similarly to censure. He should not presume to dictate to others how they are to conduct, nor condemn them as intolerant for finding this conduct remiss. He goes too far in demanding that we must like him as well as lump him, approve his behaviour because we tolerate it—we may legitimately prefer to uphold sobriety, fidelity, self-control, as superior values, while eschewing any attempt to enforce them.

Such confusion is at the heart of the dispute over same-sex ‘marriage.’ Many people in Scotland who regard traditional marriage, as it has been universally defined and practised for over two thousand years, as a higher value than homosexuality, resent being bullied by a dictatorial clique into approving what is already tolerated, and reject this as a demand too far. They too, have their beliefs, just as their opponents have theirs —but in these matters nobody is more illiberal than a liberal; they intolerantly denounce any dissent from their views as intolerance and vilify those who dare to do it. The truth is that the only liberty they love is their own.


It is the wider agenda of the distorters that explains this deliberate distortion of words today. Pluralism has been skewed to serve the interests of an anti-religious faction, arrogantly claiming the right to define what is and what is not true, and to impose its version upon everyone else. The fact that there are a number of competing world-views is startlingly used to demote all, save one, to the status of mere opinion—only the liberal outlook is declared to be objectively true, and any divergence from it is branded as obscurantist error. One minority group is thereby privileged above all the rest, and, with a logic borrowed from Alice in Wonderland, they call this living in a pluralist society.

When, in our age, liberalism embraced the new dogmas of political correctness, it simultaneously assumed the dictatorial attributes of its new partner and became the opposite of what it purported to be a managerial, dirigiste, bullying. Conformity, by force it necessary, is the new programme. You want to be socially included—well, the admission fee is the requirement to become just like us, ‘us’ being a self-appointed elite who claim the right to tell everyone else how to behave and think. During the Clause 28 controversy, Scottish Catholics were warned that to follow Cardinal Winning would be to put at risk all the social gains they had made and similar cautions have been repeated with regard to the ‘elite’s’ diktats concerning easier divorce, abortion, euthanasia, genetic screening, and the like. Catholics had mistakenly believed that they had exited the ghetto to participate in the public forum as Catholics, bringing a Catholic perspective to public issues. They have learned instead, to their dismay, that they are to sit mute and docile in a corner, to be seen but not heard, like good Victorian children. The deal, that they had somehow made unawares, was the granting of social inclusion, conditional upon their silent acquiescence in matters detrimental to their faith. They might, at most, continue to harbour their objectionably divisive views in private, provided they went on to tiptoe, but they must not renege upon the deal, nor threaten to capsize the boat into which they have so generously been allowed entry. Rather than inclusion and integration as originally proposed and understood, this smacks more of a return to the catacombs. Yet it is called pluralism.

True pluralism means living with, but not like, others. Liberals have a right to regard religion as evil and to campaign for its extirpation, but, by the same token, Catholics have the same right to regard it as good and to campaign for its survival. Yet it is the Catholic right that has long been, and continues to be, brazenly challenged in the matter of Catholic schools to be taught only what the elite approves. In a monstrous distortion of language, the wish of Catholics to have their own children, and no one else, taught religion, is labelled repression, while liberal coercion of other people’s children is hailed as liberation.

Big Brother himself might have blinked in envious admission at such a masterpiece of doublethink. If the liberals have their way, religion will cease to be taught in all schools, though parents, admittedly, will still be permitted to teach it at home. But for how long? For it religion is poisonous and divisive, why should it be taught anywhere? Not the place where it is taught, but religion itself is the real evil, and, as Voltaire once urged, Ecrasez I’infame, crush the evil thing. It makes no sense to rescue these abused children from abusive teachers and abandon them to equally abusive parents. But the first step will be to order all schools to un-teach the noxious superstition taught n Church and home alike, for the young must be saved from darkness by the enlightened ones, who alone know what is right and who have a right, nay a duty, to enforce it. As Big Brother says, freedom is slavery.


It is true that Scotland has changed greatly since the Famine immigrants first arrived in 1845. The old traditional, native, Presbyterian hostility towards these alien, Romanised savages is waning fast, and the Church of Scotland, to its credit, has admirably apologised to Catholics today for the injustices done to their ancestors in that prejudiced past. But, as the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The old anti-Catholic hostility persists, but it has moved lodgings from the right to the left. Amid all the changes, one thing endures: anti-Catholicism, whether society be Protestant or secular. For a long time, Catholics were attacked for being Catholic; now they are attacked for being Christian. All roads in our country, whether left or right, lead not to Rome, but to Rome’s desired destruction.

Newman is our best guide as to how we, as Catholics, should act in this situation. Ever since the Reformation, he argued, Catholics has been a term of disparagement in this country, with the Church still on probation, its followers expected to prove their right, as the backward progeny of a benighted mother, to live alongside truly civilised people. Domiciled amid such disapproval, it is all too easy for Catholics to become infected with the sedulously cultivated myth of their own supposed inferiority, and a sense of subservience has often become the occupational hazard of the cradle Catholic. There is a pressure to believe that the Faith must conform to the world’s lackey, trimming its teaching in order to please or placate, to curry an easy popularity. Such a Church, led by the Vicar of Bray rather than the Vicar of Christ, would perish and would deserve to do so. Newman warns against this standing temptation—more dangerous now than when he spoke because of the eccentric ways in which the idea of aggiornamento is sometimes interpreted—that the Church ‘must keep up with the age’, that, to justify its claim to a place in society sets and to be, in short, trendy and topical. The truth is that no one would or should take seriously a Church Forever scanning the latest opinion polls to see if it is a crowd-pleaser. Aggiornamento means that the Church should discern the signs of the times, but not that it should take jump when the world speaks. She is not a stenographer—She takes advice, not dictation. She is not, changing the metaphor, a waiter in a restaurant, whose only role is to cater to the customer’s wishes: that is not the sense in which she serves. To act like that would be to make herself redundant, for why on earth would she be then needed? The opposite is true. She must be brave enough to resist and correct a world constantly at risk of going astray. Christ said to Peter, Feed My Lambs, but he did not add that the lambs would dictate the menu.

The role of Catholics in a pluralist society is to be a Catholic. They will be done on Earth. If we do not believe this, we have no reason to be Catholic at all. We command to be a city on a hill, to be seen and heard, not to be a group of timid, self-effacing, Victorian children, cowering in a corner. Which is what we shall be, if we go constantly in fear of giving offence to those who share our society but not our faith. We must not be truculent or domineering, or expect everyone else to agree with, or defer to, us; but neither should we apologise for being who we are, or conceal or dilute our beliefs because they may make us unpopular. Throughout history and in many parts of the world today, countless numbers have been, and still are, prepared to die for the faith; all we are being asked to do is to uphold it.





Leave a Reply

latest features

Insight: Mary’s Meals open up about their fundraising, the power of prayer, and the fight against famine

June 22nd, 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

Our reporter speaks to Mary’s Meals about war-torn South Sudan...

From pamphleteer to papal publisher: 150 years of the Catholic Truth Society

June 15th, 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

In a special report, AMANDA CONNELLY looks at the rich...

The role of the prison chaplain is to show the possibility of redemption

June 8th, 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

DR HARRY SCHNITKER addresses the vital role of the prison...

Scottish seminarian on praying for vocations

June 1st, 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

AMANDA CONNELLY speaks to Ryan Black about the call to...

Social media

Latest edition


exclusively in the paper

  • Abortion is ‘never a good outcome,’ Archbishop Leo Cushley says
  • Memorial to Irish Great Hunger and Highland famine
  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opens the new St Mary’s PS, Largs
  • Mary McGinty reveals how a powerful feeling such as swimming in the sea can help grief

Previous editions

Previous editions of the Scottish Catholic Observer newspaper are only available to subscribed Members. To download previous editions of the paper, please subscribe.

note: registered members only.

Read the SCO