In his first public statement on September’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI, the organisation’s leader in Scotland, Ian Wilson, said that while the Orange Order did not welcome the visit it had a “civic duty to be respectful of the sincerely held views of others”.
However, the Grand Master said the fact that the scandal currently engulfing the Catholic Church coincided with the Pope’s visit provided an unwitting boost to the Grand Orange Lodge’s plans for a celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation.
Mr Wilson’s comments come on the back of statements by his colleagues from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.
In a recent statement the Orange Order in Ireland said it could not “welcome or agree with the visit of the Pope to this country” as the teachings of the Catholic Church were at “a total variance with the Biblical message”.
A spokesman added: “We therefore call on all citizens of the UK, and especially members of the Loyal Orange Institution, to demonstrate their opposition to the Pope’s visit to England and Scotland, and to oppose any future invitation to visit Northern Ireland.”
However, last night Mr Wilson said: “The Pope is no friend or supporter of the religious, democratic and libertarian principles that the Order believes in, so we don’t regard his visit as a particularly welcome development.
“That said, we are conscious of our civic duty to be respectful of the sincerely held views of others. This isn’t our party, so we intend to keep our noses out of it.
“We shall be concentrating our energies instead on marking the 450th Anniversary of the Scottish Reformation.”
He added: “With the Catholic Church mired in turmoil and scandal, I could be persuaded that Pope Benedict is unwittingly doing us a favour by coming to Scotland at this time.
“His visit could turn out to be a timely reminder of why our forefathers walked away from Rome and embraced Protestantism in 1560.”
However, the Grand Master may also be keen to avoid the fiasco of the Orange protests during the visit by Pope John Paul II, which were marked by apathy and failure to mobilise its membership.
Ahead of the 1982 visit, the Grand Lodge of Scotland spent two years with colleagues in Ireland and England attempting to thwart it and prevent the upgrading of the Pope’s diplomatic status.
Thousands of leaflets and more than 100,000 stickers were printed in Scotland and a protest rally was planned for Edinburgh, with the intention of halting the Pope’s progress.
However, this was prevented when the arrival of the Reverend Ian Paisley attracted police reinforcements.
Another demonstration at George Square in Glasgow led to Orange protesters and Ian Paisley being harassed by drunken “loyalist” elements, forcing the police to move in.
The recriminations rumbled for some considerable time, led to various calls for resignations and sparked splits between “rough” and “respectable” Orangeism.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “The Orange Order’s respect for those who hold different views to their own is to be welcomed. Freedom is an underlying principle of Christianity, including freedom of religious expression and freedom of conscience.”