Scotland is anti-Catholic, Church spokesman claims
The Catholic Church in Scotland’s media spokesman has launched a vigorous attack on anti-Catholicism
Earlier this week I wrote to the Scottish Football Association’s Chief Executive, Stewart Regan about an offensive email attacking Pope Benedict which had allegedly been sent by a senior SFA official to other SFA staff on the day the Pope visited Scotland. Since no action had been taken in the two months since it was claimed the message had been sent and in the absence of any timetable for action I asked for some urgency and transparency to be brought to bear on the matter.
By the end of the week the official at the centre of the controversy, Hugh Dallas, the head of referee development had resigned, citing ‘family reasons.’ While the truths at the heart of this story may never emerge, the subject matter shows little sign of disappearing. It is sectarianism in Scotland.
Unfortunately, Scotland has a disturbing track record in this field. Reaction to my letter has proved beyond doubt that Scotland has become completely inured to the corrosive effects of religious bigotry and may even have lost sight of what constitutes it.
Tasteless e-mails appear to be simply the tip of a disturbing iceberg of anti-Catholicism in Scottish society. Many people have claimed that e-mails similar to the one in question circulated widely in the weeks leading up to the Pope’s visit. These comments are, incredibly, intended to somehow mitigate the culpability of those who were recently being accused. Sadly, they do nothing of the sort. Instead they illuminate the reality of a layer of deep, wide and vicious anti Catholic hostility in our country.
Others have pointed out that since the Catholic church has been embroiled recently in a scandalous series of sex abuse cases I should have remained silent. This is tortured logic on a grand scale. Two responses come to mind; Firstly, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. Some of them are venal, corrupt and even criminal. The Catholic Church, in a way not represented in any other organisation on earth, truly represents the broadest sweep of humanity imaginable. Some Catholic priests, religious and lay people have committed the most heinous and vile crimes. Their behaviour is inexcusable and they should face the fullest punishment the law provides, as should those who have colluded in their crimes. I make no excuses for such behaviour, nor do I defend it. It utterly appalls me. I am also however aware that of the 2,000 or so Catholic priests who have worked in Scotland over the last 25 years less than 0.5% have ever been convicted of sexual abuse. I am disturbed by the fact that in a country where over 99% of Catholic clergy are demonstrably innocent of any offence they can be so frequently subjected to hate fuelled opprobrium.
I’d challenge critics to provide evidence of any other profession, be it; teaching, social work, medicine or law enforcement with such an exemplary record. Ultimately, one case of abuse, is one failure too many, but I do not accept for an instant that such failures automatically condemn over 1 billion people to perpetual silence.
Secondly, and tellingly, anti-Catholic bigotry has existed in Scotland for a very long time. It existed ten years ago, before any sex abuse revelations had seen the light of day. It was here 20 years ago and 220 years ago. It has existed since the Reformation and its viciousness was renewed and deepened with the first influx of Irish migrants over a century and a half ago. To pretend otherwise is simply delusional.
Anti-Catholic feeling has often been tolerated by Catholics. A desire to assimilate and integrate has tended to overcome a willingness to challenge. That is changing, I detect a new resolve, especially among younger people. Our grandparents and even our parents suffered intolerance and persecution. We will not tolerate it. We will not laugh it off or see the funny side—because there is no funny side. Beneath the surface of the nasty e-mails and the intemperate asides of public figures there are others whose malignancy is altogether more pernicious.
As the racist bile of ‘comedians’ like Bernard Manning underpinned and affirmed the actions of many who committed racially motivated attacks in the 1970s and 80s so too does the Catholic baiting of the chattering classes bolster the bigotry of a new generation of vicious thugs. They are the ones who threw the concrete block at the Lanarkshire priest, striking him in the head. They are the ones who surrounded the car of the West Lothian priest hurling vile invective at him and trapping him in fear. They are the ones who hurled a brick through the bedroom window of the Renfrewshire priest as he slept. They are responsible for parish windows being barred and grilled after decades of vandalism and attack. Such incidents are a mere snapshot of the daily tide of intolerance Catholics, especially clergy, have suffered and continue to suffer in what was once dubbed ‘the best small country in the world.’ An epithet quickly re coined by some exasperated Catholics as ‘the best small-minded country in the world.’
Catholics do not represent, intemperate or extreme zealotry. We do not call for persecution of any kind to be shown to those who do not share our beliefs. I have many friends of other faiths and Christian traditions, I respect their beliefs completely as they do mine. I am however a member of a generation formed and nurtured in Scotland to play a full and active part in the life and future of this country. I will not allow that entitlement to be questioned, disparaged, demeaned or besmirched in any way. Let no one be in any doubt, with this shameful episode, Catholics in Scotland have drawn a line in the sand. The bigotry, the bile, the sectarian undercurrents and innuendos must end. Such hateful attitudes have had their day, they poison the well of community life, they must be excised and cast out once and for all.