BY SCO Admin | May 25 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Fears ‘culture of secrecy’ shrouds archive plans

Look beyond Edinburgh, opponents to move are told but questions are raised by senior cleric over proposals

A leading Edinburgh cleric has warned against a ‘culture of secrecy’ surrounding the planned dispersal of the Scottish Catholic Archives.

Mgr Michael Regan, administrator of St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh and a member of the Heritage Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland that oversees the archives, said the Church had a responsibility to ‘be transparent and give a cogent presentation’ of the case for moving the archives from their present home at Edinburgh’s Columba House.

He was very surprised to learn in last week’s SCO that, in addition to the collection currently held in Edinburgh’s Columba House going to Aberdeen University and the bishops’ planned new headquarters in Glasgow, material relating to individual dioceses could be returned to them. This is an issue he said had never been discussed by the heritage commission.

“We live in a period where accountability is of great importance,” he said.  “A culture of secrecy has brought the Church into disrepute in the past and it is vital that we learn the lessons of the past and show that the bishops and the trustees of the Blairs Museum Trust have acted as responsible trustees in this matter and that the move is not simply the whim of a few individuals but will serve the needs of the Church and the academic community.”


Necessary move

Another member of the Scottish Catholic Heritage Commission has, however, said much of the opposition to the move is Edinburgh-centric in nature.

Herbert Coutts, Edinburgh’s former city curator and director of culture, said: “Edinburgh and the central belt do not encapsulate Scotland. It is nonsense to suggest that lending the collections to Aberdeen University’s hugely impressive new library, with its state-of-the-art facilities, will somehow diminish scholarship and our nation.”

Mr Coutts said he believed that working with Aberdeen University (above) would be an ‘exciting new opportunity. He added the plan to move part of the archives was essential because for more than a decade ‘experts have viewed Columba House, which occupies part of a Georgian townhouse built in 1819, as unsuitable as a long-term home for the historic collection and additional materials.’


Digital archive

Ronnie Convery, a spokesman for Archbishop Mario Conti, who is the president of the Scottish Catholic Heritage Commission, said the offer from Aberdeen University meant ‘state-of-the-art storage and display facilities’ would be available to ‘both the Blairs Library (currently on loan to the National Library of Scotland) and the Historic Archive of the Catholic Church in Scotland, namely that material which predates the restoration of normal church governance in 1878.’

“This material will be conserved and made available in Aberdeen to all who would access it in Columba House, through a 30-year loan arrangement which also envisages the future digitisation of the material, thus eliminating gripes about the alleged ‘difficulties’ of travelling to Aberdeen,” he said.

“The remainder of the material at Columba House—that is the working papers of individual dioceses post 1878—will be reordered, and will, where appropriate, be returned to the dioceses of origin or to other more recent depositors, while the more recent papers of national significance, (Bishops’ Conference material, Papal documents, material covering Papal visits and so on) will be re-housed when the new General Secretariat opens in Glasgow.”

Mr Convery also stated that this solution would save the Church money as it was currently subsidising Columba House ‘to the tune of almost £100,000 per year’ and he hoped to reassure Catholics that ‘far from acting in a cavalier and thoughtless manner, the bishops have responded wisely and prudently to a situation which needed resolution.’


Remaining concerns

Professor Thomas Clancy of Glasgow University, convener of the Scottish Catholic Historical Association, remains concerned about the facts and figures on the move.

Professor Clancy said that he and the SCHA council still believe ‘it would behove the bishops, and the Scottish Catholic Heritage Commission, under whose auspices the move has been allowed to go ahead, to pause and rethink.’

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