Roman Catholicism in Scotland

Roman Catholicism in Scotland

Archbishop of Glasgow]

The Catholic Church in Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: "An Eaglais Caitligeach") describes the organisation of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, which is distinct from the Catholic Church in England and Wales or the Catholic Church in Ireland.

In the 2001 census about 16% of the population of Scotland described themselves as being Roman Catholic, compared with 42% affiliated to the Church of Scotland. [] Most Scottish Catholics are the descendants of Irish immigrants who moved to Scotland's cities and towns during the nineteenth century, and older Scottish Highland minorities. However, there are significant numbers of Italian, Lithuanian [] and Polish ancestry, with more recent Polish immigrants again boosting the numbers.

There are several pockets in Scotland where there is a significant remnant pre-Reformation Catholic population, for example parts of Banffshire and the Hebrides. Unlike Ireland, where the Gaelic language has been associated with Roman Catholicism, Scottish Gaeldom has been both Catholic and Protestant in modern times. A number of Scottish Gaelic areas are mainly RC, including Barra, South Uist and Moidart. The poet and novelist Angus Peter Campbell writes frequently about Catholicism in his work. See also "Religion of the Yellow Stick"


Catholicism in Scotland has had an often-turbulent history. Following the Scottish Reformation in 1560, Catholicism was outlawed. St John Ogilvie (1569-1615) who was raised a Calvinist but converted to Catholicism in 1596, was ordained a priest in 1610 and was hanged for proselytism in Glasgow.

Christianity probably came to parts of southern Scotland around the second century. Saint Ninian in the 4th Century is the proto Bishop of Whithorn (Candida Casa)

:"And where is the faith of Peter, but in the See of Peter? Thither, thither I must repair, that going forth from my country, from my kindred, and from my father's house, I may see in the land of the Vision the will of the Lord and be protected by His Temple." (Ex Hist. Vitae S. Niniani a S. Aelredo Ab. cons.)".

Later on, western Scotland was evangelised by the Celtic Church of St Columba, and these missions in turn evangelised most of northern England independently of Augustine, leading to the establishment of the priory on Lindisfarne in Northumberland. Missions from northern Scotland also converted the Orkney and Shetland islands in the pre-Norse period, and this is reflected in the papar names, and commemorations such as North Ronaldsay (actually a corruption of "Rinansey" - St Ninian's Island). Early Celtic church settlements in Scotland are commemorated by Kil- names (e.g. Kilmarnock)

The faith was firmly established by the sixth and seventh centuries. The relationship between the Church in Scotland and the Papacy is that of a "Special daughter of the holy See". The Scottish Catholic Celtic Church had marked liturgical and ecclesiological differences from the rest of Western Christendom, being monastically led. Some of these were resolved at the end of the seventh century following the Synod of Whitby and St Columba's withdrawal to Iona, however, in the the ecclessiastical reforms of the eleventh century that the Scottish Church became an integral part of the Catholic communion.

That remained the picture until the Scottish Reformation in the early sixteen century, when the Church in Scotland broke with the papacy, and adopted a Calvinist confession. At that point the celebration of the Catholic Mass was outlawed. When Mary Queen of Scots returned from France to rule, she found herself as a Catholic in a largely Protestant state and Protestant court. However, some few thousand indigenous Scottish Catholics remained mainly in a small strip from the north-east coast to the Western Isles. Significant strongholds included Moidart, Morar, South Uist and Barra. However some Scottish Lairds and land owners remained Roman Catholic and some converted such as Saint John Ogilvie.

The aftermath of the failed Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745 further damaged the Catholic cause in Scotland and it was not until the start of Catholic Emancipation in 1793 that Roman Catholicism regained a civil respectability.

During the nineteenth century, Irish immigration substantially boosted the number of Scottish Roman Catholics, especially in the west, and by 1900 it was estimated that 90-95% of Scottish Catholics were fully or partly of Irish descent. However, since many of the Irish came from heavily Scottish-influenced Ulster, and had many cultural similarities including similar Gaelic languages, the distinction between "Irish" and "Scottish" Catholics was blurry, and indeed most Scottish Catholics have both Irish and Scottish (especially Highlander) ancestry. Italian, Polish, and Lithuanian immigrants have also boosted the numbers of Roman Catholics in Scotland.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy was re-established in 1878 at the beginning of his pontificate by Pope Leo XIII. (See Restoration of the Scottish hierarchy) Currently the senior bishop in Scotland is Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

This era also saw the emergence of sectarian tensions. In 1923 the Church of Scotland produced a highly-controversial (and since repudiated) report entitled "The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality". It accused the Catholic population of subverting Presbyterian values and of causing drunkenness, crime and financial imprudence. Such official attitudes started to wane considerably from the 1930s/40s onwards. In 1986 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland expressly repudiated the sections of the Westminster Confession directly attacking Catholicism. In 1990, both the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church were founder members of the ecumenical bodies Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Action of Churches Together in Scotland; relations between church leaders are now very cordial.Unlike the relationship between the churches, some communal tensions still remain. The association between football and displays of sectarian behaviour by some fans has been a source of embarrassment and concern to the management of certain clubs. The bitter rivalry between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, known as the Old Firm, is known worldwide for its sectarian divide between Irish-Catholic Celtic and the Protestant Unionist Rangers. Sectarian tensions can still be very real, though perhaps diminished compared with past decades. Perhaps the greatest psychological breakthrough was when Rangers signed Mo Johnston (a Catholic) in 1989. Celtic, on the other hand have never had a policy of not signing players due to their religion with many of the club's greasest figures being Protestants.

Sectarianism on both sides is often manifested in activities such as boorish chanting at football matches or post-match thuggery, quite contrary to the values of peace common to Catholicism and Protestantism alike. The Scottish Parliament has recently legislated against sectarianism, making sectarian-related offences a form of aggravated offence.

The Catholic community in Scotland were once largely working class. In recent years things have changed markedly; many Catholics can be found in the what used to be called the professions and it is now unremarkable for Catholics to be occupying posts in the judiciary or in national politics. In 1999 the Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP became the first Catholic to hold the office of Secretary of State for Scotland. His succession by the Rt Hon Helen Liddell MP in 2001 attracted considerably more media comment that she was the first woman to hold the post rather than the second Catholic.

It is notable that the Catholic Church recognises the separate identities of Scotland and of England and Wales. The Church in Scotland is thus governed by its own hierarchy and Bishops' Conference, not under the control of the English Bishops. In recent years there have been times when it was especially the Scots Catholic Bishops who took the floor in the United Kingdom to argue for Catholic social and moral teaching.



There are two archbishops and six bishops in Scotland:
*Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh
**Bishop of Aberdeen
**Bishop of Argyll and the Isles
**Bishop of Dunkeld
**Bishop of Galloway
*Archbishop of Glasgow
**Bishop of Motherwell
**Bishop of Paisley

ee also

*Bishops' Conference of Scotland
*Roman Catholicism in Great Britain
*Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales
*Roman Catholic Church in Ireland

External links

* [ Bishops' Conference of Scotland]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Scotland]

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