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Hostility to Catholics is ‘deep, wide and vicious’

Hostility to Catholics in Scotland is deep, wide and vicious, a spokesman for the Church has claimed.

Peter Kearney, the director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, made his comments after the sacking of SFA referees’ chief Hugh Dallas over allegations he sent an offensive e-mail about the Pope during his recent visit to Scotland.

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Mr Kearney warned: “Let no-one be in any doubt, with this shameful episode, Catholics in Scotland have drawn a line in the sand.

“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.”

Mr Kearney sent a letter to the SFA last week demanding Mr Dallas’s dismissal if the accusations over the e-mail were true.

He said yesterday that “tasteless” e-mails may simply be “the tip of a disturbing iceberg of anti-Catholicism in Scottish society”.

Mr Kearney said the truth at the heart of the allegations surrounding Mr Dallas may never emerge. However, he claimed sectarianism showed little sign of disappearing.

Former first minister Jack McConnell called it “Scotland’s secret shame” and led several high-profile summits to challenge “bigoted attitudes and bigoted behaviour” wherever they were found.

Church of Scotland spokesman the Rev Ian Galloway said: “The entire Christian community is united in condemning sectarian activities and attitudes. They have no place in an inclusive Scotland. Violence perpetrated against my Catholic colleagues appals me. There is no excuse whatsoever.”

Leading historian Professor Tom Devine, based at Edinburgh University, said of Mr Kearney’s comments: “Whether one accepts it or not, it is historically significant.

“This is the first time that an official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland has come out to say this with such vehemence.”

Mr Kearney said earlier: “Reaction to my 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.

“Many people have claimed that e-mails similar to the one in question circulated widely in the weeks leading up to the Pope’s visit. These comments are, incredibly, intended to somehow mitigate the culpability of those who were recently being accused.

“Sadly, they do nothing of the sort. Instead, they illuminate the reality of a layer of deep, wide and vicious anti-Catholic hostility in our country.”

Mr Kearney said anti-Catholic feeling had often been tolerated by members of the church because of a desire to assimilate and integrate that often overcame a willingness to challenge.

He said: “That is changing, I detect a new resolve, especially among younger people.

“Our grandparents and even our parents suffered intolerance and persecution. We will not tolerate it. We will not laugh it off or see the funny side -- because there is no funny side.

“Beneath the surface of the nasty e-mails and the intemperate asides of public figures there are others whose malignancy is altogether more pernicious.

“As the racist bile of comedians like Bernard Manning underpinned and affirmed the actions of many who committed racially motivated attacks in the 1970s and ’80s, so too does the Catholic-baiting of the chattering classes bolster the bigotry of a new generation of vicious thugs.”

Writing in a Sunday newspaper, recent examples of intimidation of priests was a snapshot of the intolerance suffered by Catholics.

Questions arose about Mr Dallas’s future as the SFA’s head of referee development after reports claimed a photograph relating to the Pope’s September visit had been passed on via official SFA e-mails.

The photograph showed a road sign featuring a woman and a child with a doctored message referring to the pontiff below.

Mr Kearney last week demanded swift action over the allegations, saying the e-mail was “gratuitously insulting to the Pope, deeply offensive to the Catholic community of Scotland, and an incitement to anti-Catholic sectarianism”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Sectarianism is an anachronism from our past and should never be accepted, excused or tolerated.

“The Scottish Government supports a range of initiatives to tackle sectarianism through education and other approaches.

“There is, for example, the Show Bigotry the Red Card initiative tackling sectarianism among football supporters, and Nil by Mouth has been working with partner organisations -- including the Scottish Government -- to tackle sectarianism in the workplace.”

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