L’Observatoire des religions

Catholicism more powerful in Scotland

The Catholic Church has become closely associated with an open and positive attitude toward Scottish independance

mercredi 19 mars 2008 par Murray Pittock

Part of the growing interest in the country’s national history and culture seems to have been possible because of the relative decline of the Presbyterian ascendancy, particularly in its Orange manifestation.
The legacy of the Scottish Reformation had always made Scotland uneasy with aspects of its own past, not least its historic links with Catholic Ireland […].
Scotland’s close historic, linguistic and ethno-cultural ties to Ireland (out with the north-eastern counties) were long suppressed or ignored during the years of Presbyterian ascendancy : in 1923 the Church and Nation Committee of the Kirk of Scotland even published an infamous racist report on Irish immigration […]. Combating the Kirk’s reservation about aspects of Scotland’s native and hybrid cultures had been going on for centuries : in 1960, it began to be clear that the power, dignity, restraint and repression of Calvinist culture in Scotland was failing.
In Aberdeen at the beginning of the 1960s, Christmas day was a normal working day for many : by the time a Free Kirk headmaster had a Christmas tree at his school chopped down in the 1970s, his action was widely regarded as both newsworthy and ridiculous […].
Deep distaste for Catholicism, once a staple diet even among moderate Anglicans, was beginning to be a lost cause in Scotland, though among traditional and relative immobile sectors of society such bigotry remains a force, particularly in the west central belt. […].
To some extent, the decline of the Presbyterian in Scotland was simply a function of a general increase in western European secularism, and it is undeniable that Scotland has become more secular, though at a slower rate than England, where only half the proportion of the population goes to church.
What has been distinctive, however, is the development, following John Paul II’s visit of 1982, and the general decline in rampant anti-Catholicism in Scotland, of the Catholic Church’s role (despite declining congregations) as the major clerical voice in Scotland. Throughout the 1990s the voice of the Scottish bishops was increasingly heard on matters of public morality and social solidarity, in a country more open to Catholic social teaching on the Continental model […] than its southern neighbour. When the most senior bishop, Thomas Winning (1925-2001), Archbishop of Glasgow, was installed as a Cardinal in 1994, it was seen of a dignity of national significance, much more so perhaps than had been the case when its predecessor, Joseph Gray, had become Scotland’s first Cardinal since the Reformation in 1969. The much stronger opposition to abortion in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK led to unsuccessful pressure for it to become a devolved issue, and in 2007 the Holyrood administration apparently assured to the Catholic Church that it would be exempted from gay adoption legislation : if this was the case, Westminster ignored the assurance.
If Presbyterian has declined in importance in Scottish life since 1960, Catholicism has become relatively more powerful, and has - in recent years at least – become closely associated with an open and positive – if coded and cautious- attitude toward Scottish independence, both in its bishops’ letters and in its pronouncement of some of its senior clerics : in 2007, Cardinal O’Brien was the first name outside politics to appear on the BBC website congratulating Alex Salmond on being elected First Minister. Increasingly, instead of being viewed as alien and Irish […], the decline of the Union institutions - including the Kirk – has opened a role for the Irish example in Scotland […].
The Catholic Church has – despite increasing secularism in general – benefited from Presbyterianism’s decline : it is also the only faith community in Scotland able to challenge the Church of Scotland in numbers and significance. The Episcopal Church, the Scottish branch of the Anglican Communion, has only 35-40,000 members, and all other Christian denominations have fewer, as do all other faiths with the exception of Islam (up to 50,000 in 2007). By contrast, there are 800,000 baptized Catholics in Scotland, though fewer than half are practising.
From Murray Pittock’s lats book, The Road to independance ?, Scotland since the sixties, Contemporary World, 2008, p. 50-52ave

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