BY Peter Diamond | September 20 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Hostile secular environment is forcing politicians to ‘play down’ their Faith, Bishop Keenan says

A ‘hostile secular environment’ dominates party politics and politicians are increasingly having to ‘play down’ their faith, Bishop John Keenan has said.

The Bishop of Paisley Diocese spoke after an Inverclyde councillor claimed SNP Party bosses told him to ‘curtail’ his Catholicism if he wanted to be a parliamentary candidate.

Chris McEleny has made a complaint to the SNP’s national executive committee who govern the party, claiming that when he stood as a candidate for the deputy leadership of the SNP, he was asked during the vetting process if he ‘would be willing to curtail discussing matters pertinent to my faith if I were an SNP parliamentary ­candidate.’

Mr McEleny is the second Christian to speak out against the party, following threats of deselection against SNP MP Lisa Cameron (above right) over her pro-life views.

Responding to the claims which were reported in The National, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley Diocese said: “Chris McEleny is a fine witness to young Catholics who feel called to contribute to politics.

“He seems to be a good servant both of his party and of his Catholic Faith… there need be no contradiction between them in his ­professional career.”

“Personally I believe what our political scene in Scotland needs more than anything is respect for the place of reasonable, decent and authentic Christian beliefs in the political space and due respect for politicians who are motivated by their beliefs,” Bishop Keenan added. “I am glad of the SNP’s ­verbal assurances that this is a misunderstanding and a case of crossed wires.

“That said, pressure on Catholics and Christians to play down their Faith in favour of party politics in a hostile secular ­environment is a growing concern which will only be assuaged when we see ­politicians of faith feeling free to express positions informed by their faith in a ­hearing of respectful debate.”

Last week, reports in a number of ­newspapers claimed the Christian SNP MP for East Kilbride and Lesmahagow, Lisa Cameron, was at risk of not being reselected for any snap general election after voting earlier this year against legalising abortion in Northern Ireland.

The MP’s situation was also ­acknowledged by Bishop Keenan, who last Wednesday questioned the assurances given to the Catholic Church by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in July on MPs’ freedom of ­conscience.

Bishop Keenan said: “After the First ­Minister’s assurance to the Scottish bishops that no MP would be deselected from the SNP list of candidates on account of their pro-life beliefs, one really wonders what on earth to make of this!”

Dr Cameron thanked Bishop Keenan for ‘highlighting this matter’ adding she would find out if she would face an open contest for her seat which she said ‘is likely after local officials encouraged members to ­withdraw all support from me after the vote.’

The MP was reselected by her local party on Saturday. On Thursday she joined the Society for the Protection of Unborn ­Children (SPUC) in Westminster to present a petition from people in Northern Ireland opposed to the change in abortion laws.

Speaking about the issues facing Catholic and Christian politicians, Anthony Horan, director of Catholic Parliamentary Office, said he was worried about a ‘creeping intolerance’ towards Christians.

Mr Horan said: “The right to not only hold a religious belief but also to manifest it ­publicly is a fundamental human right that should not be infringed.

“People of faith are rightly concerned about a creeping intolerance towards ­religious belief which seeks to push religion into the private sphere.”

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