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Tackling anti-Catholicism is the first step in fighting sectarianism

Your editorial was both timely and measured ("Sectarianism still a blight on society", January 7).

As your interview with Duncan Morrow suggested ("Anti-bigotry czar warns sectarianism is classless", January 7), religious intolerance does not respect geographic or socio-economic boundaries. It is widespread and, as the recent religiously aggravated offence statistics show, it is on the increase.

Scandalously, open and wide debate on the matter in modern Scotland is neither encouraged nor facilitated. As Crown Office statistics show, the Catholic community is more likely to be offended against than any other. Scotland has first and foremost a problem with anti-Catholicism. This must be recognised and accepted before progress can be made. To deploy blanket terminology like "sectarianism" in the face of compelling evidence attesting to the particulars of certain animosities is to perpetuate the problem.

It is equally clear from prosecution data that anti-Catholicism is spread evenly across the country. There is a direct correlation between the number of offences committed in each part of Scotland and the underlying size of the Catholic population. The areas with the highest numbers of anti-Catholic incidents are simply the areas with the highest numbers of Catholics.

We could start by following the lead taken by campaigners against domestic violence. For the most part it comprises male violence directed at women. Campaigners and politicians have recognised this with material including posters and advertising portraying women as the primary victims. This is a simplification of the wider problem but it allows clarity and a focused message. We can never eradicate a problem we refuse to define.

It is 30 years since the late Pope John Paul II made his seminal visit to Scotland. Documents declassified this week under the 30-year rule reveal an earlier generation of politicians warning of "dangerous manifestations of sectarian hatred" from "militantly Protestant quarters" in 1982. Almost three decades later, in 2010, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI was also subject to the most virulent antagonism. The most prominent detractors were secularists. The proponents of anti-Catholic intolerance had changed; their target had not.

I am certain many voices will join this debate, bringing with them a blame-the-victim mindset. In much the same way as America's black citizens in an earlier era were urged to straighten their hair and whiten their complexions to minimise differences with the white majority, many will surely urge Scottish Catholics to stop sending their children to Catholic schools or making public or overt declarations of faith. I would urge everyone to consider the wisdom of the words of your editorial: "A focus on education should not be allowed to deflect attention away from the fact that bigotry is learned and ingrained in the wider community and, indeed, in the home."

Peter Kearney,

Director, Catholic Media Office,

5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow.

DUNCAN Morrow echoes many of the sentiments Nil By Mouth have expressed in recent years. The days of sweeping this issue under the carpet are over.

While sectarianism can seem at its most vivid at football matches, the evidence shows that it goes well beyond the terraces. It can be found in our classrooms, courts, building sites and boardrooms. It is not unique to one social class, religious grouping or cultural tradition.

Mr Morrow also touches on the need to redefine sectarianism and this has the potential to be the greatest contribution to the debate of the advisory group which he chairs.

Sectarianism in 21st-century Scotland has mutated beyond religion and is more often that not a confusion of religion, politics, cultural identity and ignorance. At its core is a fear of difference and the misguided belief there has always been a them and there has always been an us.

Too many individuals and groups – many of whom really should know better – choose to fan these flames rather than douse them. They define sectarianism in their own terms to suit their own agendas, blowing a dog whistle in their communities to alarm its members. This encourages people to be much quicker to point the finger than they are to look in the mirror.

If we are to avoid condemning the next generation to the mistakes of our past we must all accept our share of responsibility for the present.

Dave Scott,

Campaign Director, Nil By Mouth,

51 Wilson Street, Glasgow.

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