IN the face of civic Scotland’s eternal suspicions, born of fear and ignorance, the voice of the Catholic Church still carries significant influence. It’s just that the leaders of the church in Scotland seem lately to have been cowed by the expectation of malice. In recent years, the Catholic Church has been reduced to a vestigial presence in public life, only rarely glimpsed and faltering in its speech. It seems to have taken a vow of silence and marginalised itself.

This is puzzling. The Scottish census (if enough homes return the survey) will reveal that around 16% of the population identify as Catholic, many of them declaring their Irish heritage.

Even though the number of church-going Catholics is significantly less than this, they contribute millions in finances and voluntary work to maintain a vast nexus of social action in Scotland’s most distressed communities. The church leadership should derive strength from this and regard it as a mandate to enter the public arena and make its voice heard.

Certainly, this period of silence is pleasing to those in political and metropolitan Scotland for whom any semblance of faith in public discourse is anathema. Scotland may self-identify as modern, enlightened and progressive as it pays homage to the European Union in preparation for being received into the halls of the chosen.

In few other countries, though, will you find such animosity among the elites to faith schools or to simple expressions of Christianity, such as crosses. It’s not the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland who are the real enemies of Catholicism.

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Rather, they’re to be found among the political activists who leech a living and affirmation from Scotland’s governing coalition.

And in few other places does the simple adherence to the teaching of your church on the sanctity of all human life – from conception to death – meet with such fury and false accusations. If Scotland desires to take its place as a modern European state its political elites will require a few lessons on how to be authentically inclusive.

The Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in Scotland seem, though, to have emerged from its self-imposed lockdown. Their document on gender identity, published last month, is perhaps their most important contribution to public discourse in Scotland in recent times. Its clarity and vision will be welcomed far beyond the Catholic community.

It arises from increasing concerns expressed by teachers in Catholic schools about how best to care for children who are now identifying as non-binary or who desire to change their sex. In this they need to strike a balance in which the mental welfare of vulnerable or marginalised children is discharged without eroding the philosophy and mission of the church gathered from the wisdom of ages.

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There are concerns too about the influence of some poisonous groupings, several of whom are in receipt of massive amounts of public money, who have been disseminating anti-Christian and unscientific propaganda. These concerns arise from perceived dangers to the mental and physical wellbeing of pupils. The church believe these children’s futures are being compromised by adults who seem heedless about the long-term effects on their physical and emotional development.

In a secular world, where popularity and validation are found in raw numbers and ethics which are governed by social media ‘likes’, it can be forgotten that the Catholic Church has one duty that takes precedence above all others: to convey the truth. It can’t be governed or mesmerised by temporal whims that look for instant gratification and which, like all else, will wither and then die. The church can’t do beauty contests.

It’s concerned with what it regards as the eternal truths which must inform our relationships with each other and with our creator. You might choose to have no truck with such beliefs, but a truly progressive society would be wise at least to listen.

The Bishops’ document provides a clear and remarkably concise analysis of the debate on gender reform. It draws on contemporary scientific analysis; statistical research; lived experience and the basic anthropology of Christian belief. It states that “following the data of the life sciences, the Church holds that human life, from the moment of conception, has its sexual state fixed genetically, anatomically and physiologically, as a constitutive part of our personal identity.

“Moreover, the Church, aware of the evidence of both life and human sciences, is convinced that gender identity and sexual identity arise from one and the same real foundation and are inseparable from each other in principle”.

The bishops reject some aspects of the Scottish Government’s gender reform Bill as “detrimental to the interests of society, communities and family”. And that attempts to “re-define what it means to be male or female cannot be done without creating legal confusion, not least in implying there is nothing distinctive about womanhood or manhood”.

The document expresses deep concern about the dangers inherent in extreme trans ideology of using schools as a battleground, specifically in the area of medical support for young people experiencing gender dysphoria: “It is essential that those experiencing gender dysphoria meet with a suitably qualified medical professional. While some argue that these important protective measures are not necessary and ought to be removed, this view is not shared by all. It would be reckless to prioritise ideology over the health and wellbeing of young people.”

The Scottish Government’s response to the bishops’ document was cool and measured. “We are committed to reforming the gender recognition process and have always been keen to seek consensus where possible and to work to support respectful debate.”

Sadly, there has been very little respect in this debate which has proceeded mainly in a toxic environment of intimidation and misogyny directed at those who share the church’s concerns about redefining what it means to be a woman. Much of this has come from activists, encouraged by senior figures in the Scottish Government who have made it a condition of progressing upwards in the party.

The Scottish Catholic community should take pride in this document and the rest of the country should welcome its pastoral and sensitive tone.

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