GLASGOW, Scotland (Catholic Online) – Catholics in Scotland are faced with being the subject of sectarian violence due to “blatant anti-Catholicism” prevalent throughout the country, said a Scottish cardinal.
Responding to the Nov. 27 release by the Scottish government executive of the first major study of 2003 anti-bigotry laws in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said that day it is of “grave concern” that Catholics were, during the 18 months reported, “in fact five times more likely to be victims of a religiously aggravated crime” than Protestants.
The study of anti-bigotry laws, which showed that 532 cases of reported religiously aggravated offenses between January 2004 and June 2005, dispelled the belief that sectarianism is a "west of Scotland problem" that is associated with English football or soccer. The number of cases of bigotry reported by police has tripled since the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, which created the offense of religious aggravation, came into force, according to figures recently published by the Crown Office.
The report revealed that acts of religious hatred are being reported in almost every part of the country, with only 33 percent of cases related to soccer events and 12 percent to marches and parades. As well, less than half – 45 percent – involved alcohol consumption.
According to the 2001 Scottish census, there are about 850,000 Catholics, making up about 17 percent of the population, and about 2,450,000 Protestants, or 49 percent of the about 5 million population.
“Today's figures show,” the cardinal said, that most “cases do not relate to either football or parades.”
“With this in mind,” Cardinal O’Brien said, “I am forced to question the wisdom of numerous high profile initiatives focusing on football clubs or the constant marginalization of sectarianism in Scotland as little more than
drink-fuelled, post-match rivalry.”
“It is,” he stressed, “sadly, deeper, wider and altogether more pervasive than that.”
It is not a coincidence that Catholics were much more likely than Protestants, Jews or Muslims to suffer sectarian abuse, he suggested. "It is not poverty, alcohol or football which underpins most cases of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland, but blatant anti-Catholicism," the cardinal said.
Cardinal O’Brien pointed to media attacks on Catholic schools as a place where sectarian feelings are stirred.
These daily attacks “fill the letters pages, the opinion columns and editorials of our newspapers and the airtime of our radio and television stations,” he noted, adding that this is despite there being no mainstream political party questioning “the existence of Catholic schools or proposed any change to them.”
“Each time a newspaper or broadcaster decides, in the face of this indifference to raise, promote or advance these arguments,” he said, “they fan the flames of religious hatred and empower those whose views are not so diplomatically expressed.”
He called on Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell to join him in urging “he Scottish media to adopt a far more cautious and measured approach in future to the topic of Catholic schools.”
The cardinal further urged McConnell to consider how best to incorporate the views and experiences of Scottish Catholics, “who are so disproportionately affected” by the problem of sectarian violence, in the forthcoming “Summit on Sectarianism,” to which leaders from the Catholic Church, the Protestant Orange Lodge and others are expected to attend.
He also called for “wider and more detailed research into religiously aggravated crime” in order to explain “why Scotland's Catholics continue to suffer from such crimes out of all proportion to their numbers."
The Scottish first minister has spoken out against sectarianism and and has encouraged moves by the Scottish government including efforts to reform regulations surrounding marches and imposition of rules against attendance at soccer matches by fans caught singing songs considered sectarian or bigoted.
The Nov. 27 statement by Cardinal O’Brien is the most recent attack he has mounted on sectarianism.
Decrying “state-sponsored sectarian discrimination” almost four months ago, he took aim at a 300-year-old law and religious bigotry which leaves a blight on the cultural landscape.
The cardinal, in remarks to the Glasgow-based Scotland on Sunday published Aug. 6, said Scotland remains afflicted by a “shadowy sectarian culture.”
He said that sectarianism is codified in law through the Act of Settlement of 1701, which prevents Roman Catholics or those who marry Catholics from ascending to the throne.
"Our constitution contains legislation which describes my faith as 'the popish religion' and defines me and my co-religionists as 'papists'. That this arcanely offensive language enjoys legal sanction is outrageous,” Cardinal O’Brien said.
He said that sectarianism will continue to thrive until the British constitution is changed to amend the settlement act.
“Anyone who seriously believes that introducing legislation aimed at eradicating sectarian attacks, which are often verbal, while elements of the very lexicon of hate they seek to abolish remain on our statute books is indulging in willful ignorance."
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