A LEADING historian has condemned the "grossly insulting" comparisons between sectarianism in Scotland and the discrimination suffered by black people in 1960s America.

Professor Tom Devine said comparisons by the Catholic Church between black people being urged to whiten their skin during the civil rights turmoil and Catholics having to shun their faith "beggars belief".

Mr Devine – considered an expert on sectarianism in Scotland – said the Catholic Church was the most influential faith north of the Border, with increasing numbers supporting more devolution for Scotland.

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In The Herald yesterday, the Catholic Church's spokesman, Peter Kearney, argued sectarianism should be confronted in the same way domestic abuse is dealt with – and victims not blamed.

Mr Kearney also referred to Crown Office statistics showing Catholics are more likely to be offended against. It followed claims earlier in the week by the Scottish Government's new anti-bigotry czar, Dr Duncan Morrow, who said he had been frequently confronted with claims of "embedded anti-Catholicism that isn't going away in Scotland" in the short life of his working group.

But, while saying he shared some of Mr Kearney's views on Catholic schools and the Church being the focus for secular attacks, Mr Devine added: "Thereafter Mr Kearney and I part company. We seem to be living in different countries. Today, the most senior positions in many of our universities, political parties, the judiciary and cultural organisations are filled by Roman Catholics. They play a full and rightful part in national life.

"The Catholic Church and its leadership has a much higher profile and influence in Scotland than any other faith. All of this hardly suggests the plight of the nation's Catholics to be that of an oppressed minority.

"That the experience of bigotry among Scottish Catholics has been compared to the plight of black citizens in 1950s and 1960s America beggars belief.

"It is also grossly insulting to the experience of vicious discrimination suffered by black people in the American south in those decades for such a comparison to be made, not least by a senior spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland in 2013."