Responding to comments made against Pope Benedict during his visit, a Scottish spokesman for the Catholic Church has decried “sectarianism” and popular blindness towards anti-Catholic bigotry, saying it contributes to thuggish violence against Catholic clergy.
A senior Scottish Football Association (SFA) official, head of referee development Hugh Dallas, allegedly sent an e-mail to other SFA staff on the day of Pope Benedict’s September visit to Scotland which joked about Catholic sex abuse scandals and implied the pontiff was a pedophile.
Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, wrote to the SFA two months after the e-mail was first reported to have been sent, asking for further action. Dallas resigned later that week, citing family reasons.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Kearney criticized “sectarianism” and said the reaction to his 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.”
Comments defending Dallas claimed that many similar e-mails circulated widely before the papal visit. These claims do not lessen the culpability of those accused of bigotry, but instead “illuminate the reality of a layer of deep, wide and vicious anti-Catholic hostility in our country.”
Kearney also countered the “tortured logic” of those who said he should have been silent because of sex abuse scandals in the Church.
The Church represents the “broadest sweep of humanity,” and some priests, vowed religious and lay people have committed “the most heinous and vile crimes” for which they should be punished, he emphasized.
However, fewer than 0.5 percent of the about 2,000 Catholic priests who have worked in Scotland over the last 25 years have ever been convicted of sexual abuse.
“I am disturbed by the fact that in a country where over 99 percent of Catholic clergy are demonstrably innocent of any offense they can be so frequently subjected to hate fuelled opprobrium,” Kearney said. “I do not accept for an instant that such failures automatically condemn over 1 billion people to perpetual silence.”
He also noted that anti-Catholic bigotry has existed in Scotland for “a very long time” before any revelations of sexual abuse. “To pretend otherwise is simply delusional.”
Catholics have often tolerated anti-Catholicism in part because a desire to “assimilate and integrate” has overcome “a willingness to challenge.” According to Kearney, there is a new resolve to challenge anti-Catholicism especially among young Catholics.
“Beneath the surface of the nasty emails and the intemperate asides of public figures there are others whose malignancy is altogether more pernicious,” he warned.
Kearney cited several violent incidents. Attackers hit a Lanarkshire priest in the head with a concrete block and an intimidating mob surrounded a West Lothian priest’s car and shouted “vile invective” at him.
Thugs inspired by “the Catholic baiting of the chattering classes” are responsible for parish windows being barred and grilled after decades of vandalism and attack, the spokesman said.
“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’.”
Emphasizing that Catholics do not represent extreme zealotry and do respect others’ beliefs, Kearney said his generation has been formed to play “a full and active part” in Scottish life.
“Let no one be in any doubt, with this shameful episode, Catholics in Scotland have drawn a line in the sand,” his Sunday Times piece concluded. “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.”
Rev. Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, supported Kearney in comments to the Scottish Sun. He said the Anglican body “wants to see Scotland rid of every last vestige of sectarianism.” He added he was “especially appalled” by acts of anti-Catholic violence.