The matter of anti-Catholicism in Scotland is usually guaranteed to spark fierce debate.

Amazingly, discussion of the subject tends not to be about how best to tackle it but rather about whether or not it exists.

It is both bizarre and frustrating to see that a matter of objective fact – based on, among other data, Crown Office conviction statistics – proving that anti-Catholicism is demonstrably present in Scotland, is treated as a matter of opinion or a "point of view".

Society, as far as I can see, does not do this with any other topic. When considering, for example, childhood obesity, smoking-related cancer and violence against women, it may be a minority who are affected ... but that reality is never proposed as a challenge to the fact that a measurable problem exists. Why is the threshold so high for anti-Catholicism? And why can't discussion focus on how we tackle this problem?

Many Catholics are utterly exasperated at a seemingly wilful denial of a clearly catalogued problem and a complete disinclination to challenge it within wider society, while column inches are constantly given to deniers.

It is very important in discussing this topic that the anecdotal does not substitute for the empirical. Were you to ask a cross-section of women if they'd ever experienced sexism and found that a number had not, you wouldn't be justified in concluding "sexism may not exist".

Health studies generally indicate that between 17% and 25% of smokers develop cancer. If you asked a sample of smokers if they'd developed cancer, statistically around 80% wouldn't, yet no-one would conclude: "smoking-related cancer probably doesn't exist".

To assess such matters, it is important that we steer away from anecdotal and personal experiences and follow a far more rigorous factual methodology.

The empirical evidence is clear: The Act of Settlement of 1701, together with Article II of the Treaty of Union of 1707, prohibits a Catholic from ever becoming head of state.

An analysis of convictions under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003) which created the offence of "aggravated sectarianism" consistently shows that religious hate crimes against Catholics are more numerous than hate crimes against all other religions combined and that Catholics are between five and six times more likely to be subject to such an attack than anyone else.

An opinion poll based on a statistically significant sample of Scottish adults in September 2011 found that 68% of Scots had an "unfavourable" opinion of the Catholic Church, though interestingly there was majority approval for many of the Church's messages. And 51% did not agree with the statement that "on balance the Catholic church is a force for good". All the results were dramatically more negative than the polling results for the same questions in England and Wales.

A recent statistical analysis of the Scottish census results reveal significant levels of employment disparity across several occupations and industries, when you compare Catholics with non-Catholics with similar education and qualification standards. Repeated assertions to the contrary based on older and smaller data samples are utterly flawed and completely false.

It is therefore perfectly possible to posit a convincing case for the widespread existence of residual and at times pernicious anti-Catholicism in Scotland to the present day. The cacophony of denials, including by some Catholics, is simply a facet of the problem.

Perhaps we can learn something from the 1999 Lord Macpherson Report and his description of London's Metropolitan Police Force as "institutionally racist". However, he also stated that most of the Metropolitan Police are not racists.

A key point from this, seemingly contradictory, set of statements is that the decent non-racist majority did not feel empowered enough to challenge the racist minority – thus leading to the creation of a "canteen culture" of racism.

This mirrors Scotland, where the majority of Scots are not anti-Catholic. However, neither are they minded to recognise and challenge anti-Catholicism in its different forms.

A country where public prosecution statistics show that religious hate crimes against Catholics comprise more cases than all other religious hate crimes combined has an issue with anti-Catholicism. A country where Catholics are statistically at least five times more likely to be subject to such a crime has a problem with anti-Catholicism.

The evidence for widespread occupational disparities for Catholics is simply overwhelming and should no longer be swept under the carpet by apologists who have never experienced it. The time is long overdue for a meaningful honest debate but before any problem is solved, its existence must first be acknowledged.