BY Daniel Harkins | May 26 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Sectarianism in Scotland is ‘on its deathbed,’ says historian Tom Devine

Sectarianism in Scotland is ‘on its deathbed’ and the future of Catholic schools is more secure now than ever before, according to leading historian Sir Tom Devine.

Delivering the annual Cardinal Winning lecture at Glasgow University on May 20, Mr Devine argued that there is ‘no position in the land’ that is not open to Catholics and that the pockets of anti-Catholicism that do exist—he gave Ayrshire and Lanarkshire as examples—have been reduced to just verbal abuse. He said that secularists and politicians that are members of humanist societies do not, in his view, constitute a significant threat to the future of Catholic schools.

“The Catholic schools system clearly still has its enemies,” he said. “I know that there are people who worry about their future. But I don’t worry. Catholic schools in Scotland today are more armour-plated than they ever were. And the oppositional forces, none of them—including vociferous secularists—have exocets or armour-piercing missiles to destroy or affect them.

“And I look forward to that system, that has produced remarkable affects for a poor immigrant community in a hostile nation, prevailing for a long time to come.”

However, he said there was an ‘elephant in the room’ when it came to Catholic schools and that is the extent of their Catholicity. “How many pupils go to Sacraments?” he asked. “That makes for ammunition for opposition forces: to some extent the spiritual engine is not having the same positive effect as 40 years ago.”

Addressing the argument that there is no longer any need for Catholic schools if the historically persecuted minority have now reached parity in Scotland, Mr Devine spoke of the unique quality of Catholic schools.

In the view of ‘dispassionate social observers,’ he said, Catholic schools ‘seem to have the knack’ for producing ‘social capital—empathetic people with a keen sense of social justice.’

The Cardinal Winning Lecture—named after the late Glasgow archbishop—is hosted each year by the university, with previous addresses delivered by Alex Salmond, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella. Mr Devine’s lecture was given as the Church prepares to mark the centenary of the 1918 Education Act that brought Catholic schools into the state-funded system. Titled ‘Catholic schools and Catholic social integration in Scotland since 1918,’ it argued that Catholic schools played a key role in allowing Irish immigrants and their descendents to become ‘full citizens’ of Scotland. He said that one consequence of the integration of Catholics into Scottish society is that the ‘automatic vote for one particular party in Scotland by the Catholic community has more or less come to an end.’

“I regard that, from a sociological, not political, point of view as a reflection of the pluralistic, diverse nature of a new Catholic citizenry in Scotland.”

The historian argued that the creation of state-funded Catholic schools was ‘win win’ for Scottish society, and was passed over objections from some in the hierarchy, including the Bishop of Dunkeld who said he would ‘rather die than accept it.’ Before the 1918 act, he said, teachers in Catholic schools earned only 60 per cent of the average salary of teachers in public schools, and the system suffered from poor buildings and overcrowding.

The 1918 act would positively affect some but not all Catholics over the next four decades, as the minority community suffered widespread discrimination in the employment sector and campaigns against hiring Catholics of Irish decent.

The ‘big breakthrough,’ Mr Devine said, was with the introduction of comprehensive education and subsequent increase in the number of Catholic schools in Scotland. From the 1970s onwards, he said, labour discrimination was on the wane, as globalisation and de-industrialisation reduced the power, and bigoted constitution, of historically anti-Catholic industries.

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