THE future of Scotland's only Catholic national newspaper has been thrown into doubt after its London-based owners put it up for sale.

Shareholders of the Catholic Herald Group have informed Scotland's bishops they are looking for a buyer for the 130-year-old paper, following several years of significant circulation decline.

The group, whose core publication is markedly more conservative than its sister paper north of the border, has said a Scottish investor or new owners would better understand and serve needs of Scotland's Catholics.

It is understood the paper is on sale for £350,000, while the city centre offices would come in at an additional £115,000. Staff were informed of the move earlier this week.

Senior church sources have played down the role of political differences as being a key factor in the sale.

The Catholic Herald's editorial director Damian Thompson has been a vocal critic of elements of the church's Scottish hierarchy, accusing them of being SNP supporters and even using the term 'PapeNat' on social media while referring to Catholics who support either the party or Scottish independence.

One source said a severing of the ties with Scotland was "a happy by-product" with weekly sales dipping to between 5000 and 6000 the crucial factor.

The source said: "The Observer has had pretty much total editorial autonomy from London, which has had a steady stream of profits flowing down, so its not that they see it as a the ecclesiastical voice of Scottish nationalism.

"The way sales are going within a few years they could be down to 1000 sales a week and then its absolutely worthless. As it stands it still does relatively well as a commercial organisation but it's difficult to see how the Observer can survive in its current format.

"It's never had a Wapping moment. It's still run like something from the 1930s."

Another church source said: "The Observer staff have a point if they think all profits have gone to London at the expense of investment in their own publication. It's been starved of resources.

"Equally you could say the choice of columnists and other decisions made in Glasgow such as circulation are the crucial factor. You have an audience which wants its views reinforced, not challenged.

"It's not comparable with with mainstream media decline but with niche audience publications which do well, like the Scottish Farmer. It has 180,000 regular mass attenders to target."

Founded in 1885, the Catholic Observer features church from Scotland, as well as regular international church news and reports from the Vatican.

Much of its exclusive content is later picked up by the mainstream media.

The paper has been owned by the Catholic Herald newspaper group for over 40 years. The Observer said all inquires about the sale should be directed to its parent company.

No-one from the Catholic Herald was available,

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "The Bishops of Scotland would hope that continuity of production could be retained allowing Scotland to keep an indigenous Catholic weekly."