Scotland politics

Catholic Bishop Tartaglia to meet Alex Salmond

Bishop Tartaglia
Image caption Bishop of Paisley, Philip Tartaglia, has asked Mr Salmond to consider changing course

A bishop who criticised the Scottish government's anti-bigotry law and consultation on same-sex marriage is to meet the first minister.

Philip Tartaglia, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Paisley, warned Alex Salmond of a "serious chill" in church relations with SNP ministers.

In a letter to Mr Salmond, the bishop said laws to tackle football related sectarianism were a "distraction".

And he said the church was "dismayed" over the gay marriage issue.

Bishop Tartaglia will now meet the first minister on Friday, after the two had a phone conversation on Tuesday evening, which the government described as "constructive and amicable".

The clergyman said the Scottish government's Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill was being brought forward without full knowledge of the problem.

In the letter, he stated: "Official figures made available some years ago show conclusively sectarian criminality is made up predominantly of acts of intolerance and hostility towards Catholics.

"We know several years' worth of subsequent data remains locked in the vaults of the Crown Office."

The bishop called for the data on sectarian offences to be made public.

He added: "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."

The Scottish government's bill to tackle sectarianism linked to football would see those convicted facing a maximum five years in prison.

But there has been confusion of exactly what would constitute a sectarian offence.

Bishop Tartaglia referred to comments made by Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham when questioned on the bill in June.

She said each case would depend on individual circumstances and she cited an example of having seen Celtic fans making signs of the cross to Rangers fans in an "aggressive" manner, which may potentially be construed as offensive.

The bishop said she spoke "loosely and unhelpfully about the sign of the cross".

The letter also criticises the consultation on same-sex marriage.

The bishop writes of "serious misgivings" about plans to "dismantle" the definition of marriage.

'Honest disagreement'

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "The Scottish government is conducting a consultation on same-sex marriage and no decisions have been arrived at.

"There are clearly different views and an honest disagreement on this particular issue, and the Catholic Church have every right to express their position.

"On the bill to combat sectarianism, the work to publish the analysis of religious aggravation charges for the most recent year, 2010/11, has been under way for some time and will be published next month as pledged."

He added: "The first minister will be delighted to have a meeting with Bishop Tartaglia and his colleagues and we are confident that we can allay concerns about the bill by taking the opportunity to discuss the lord advocate's draft guidelines, and by making clear that there is no intention to restrict freedom of speech in terms of the communications offence within the bill."

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