Scotland politics

Bishop Philip Tartaglia's letter to Alex Salmond

Dear First Minister,

Consultation on Same Sex Marriage

Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill

As you will know by now, Scotland's Catholic bishops are dismayed that your government has seen fit to launch a consultation on same sex marriage and declare itself minded to introduce legislation which would permit it.

As I said in a recent interview, your government has been very supportive of Catholic education and was very helpful regarding the visit of Pope Benedict XVI a year ago. So I recognise that until now we have had very good relations, and it is disappointing for me to have to write this letter.

As I recall, the bishops did previously try to alert you to our serious misgivings about plans to dismantle the definition of marriage in Scotland.

Your apparent commitment to such a course, will, I fear, bring about a serious chill to relations between the Scottish Government and the Catholic Bishops' Conference.

I have to say also that a number of things perplex me about recent political events.

In recent months, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, made some seriously ill-judged remarks after the behaviour of fans at the League Cup Final.

Later Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs spoke loosely and unhelpfully about the use of the Sign of the Cross in public. This was just a few days after the hasty introduction of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill.

With regard to the latter, I recognise that that this Bill was introduced with good intentions and I broadly supported it for that reason.

However, as time has gone by, it seems that a consensus is developing, supported by much expert opinion, that this proposed legislation is problematic.

The recent sittings of the Justice Committee on the matter have only served to bolster the sense that all is not well with the proposed legislation.

Along with many, I am also concerned that the Bill's introduction has served as a distraction from the real nature of sectarianism in Scotland.

Official figures made available some years ago show conclusively that sectarian criminality is made up predominantly of acts of intolerance and hostility towards Catholics.

We know that several years' worth of subsequent data on sectarian offences remains locked in the vaults of the Crown Office. It is disappointing that, despite repeated requests from the Catholic Church and from others for this data to be made public, and despite assurances from you and your government that it would be, your officials have decided to shelve plans to release that information.

Instead, what we appear to have is an indecently hasty desire to enact legislation to deal with a problem the core of which your government steadfastly refuses to name or measure.

In my view, to pass this Bill into law without first revealing the true picture of sectarianism in Scotland is ill-advised. I hope you will delay the passage of the Bill to permit a thorough examination of the available data.

Concern for just and wise law-making and for the historic and universally accepted meaning of marriage are both matters of concern to the Catholic Church.

With regard to these matters, I sense that there is a growing apprehension and disappointment on the part of many in the Catholic community at the direction your government is taking.

Like others, I had begun to entertain the hope that yours would be a government of national unity which had the sagacity to move forward towards an independent Scotland by respecting and developing the historic foundational values of faith and reason which have contributed to making Scotland a nation.

For that reason, I would be very sorry if you began to lose the confidence of the Catholic community.

As a very senior politician, I know you desire the common good. As a bishop, I seek the same. I am certain that the common good will not be served by the re-definition of marriage nor by enacting hasty and inadequately considered legislation.

Such action will, I am certain, come to be regretted by many in Scotland. I remain ever hopeful that you will reconsider your position on these matters.

With my kindest wishes,

Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley

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