GLASGOW, Scotland (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Church in Scotland is hitting back after an ex-police chief called for Catholic schools to be closed for promoting "sectarianism."
In an op-ed published Wednesday, Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, slammed the assertion that Catholic schools are to blame for social tensions in the Protestant-majority country.
"Scotland's peculiar obsession with religious intolerance has been in the spotlight again recently following the offensive and ill-informed comments of a former police chief," Kearney observed, "who claimed that the existence of denominational schools are at the root of the problem and suggested that sectarianism and bigotry can best be tackled by closing Catholic schools."
"There is not a shred of empirical evidence to back up such claims and conspicuously, none was offered," he added.
His comments follow Monday's publication of a provocative column in The Scotsman, a leading Scottish newspaper. In the piece, Tom Woods, former deputy chief constable in Edinburgh's regional police service, faulted Scotland's Catholic schools for inciting sectarian strains.
Calling on his countrymen to "look at the roots of the problem and question what divides us," Woods asserted that "if we do that then we simply cannot escape questioning our system of religiously segregated education."
The ex-constable made no mention of Protestant, Jewish or Islamic schools — all of which exist in Scotland. Instead, he suggested that Catholic schools are the cause of division.
"I have no doubt that the provision for separate Roman Catholic education as enshrined by The Education (Scotland) Act 1918, was a good idea 100 years ago," Woods wrote, "but is it acceptable that in the 21st century, we emphasise differences by separating five-year-old children based on their parents' religion?"
"As Scotland moves forward with equality as our watchword, our century-old practice of segregated education is contradictory to say the least," he argued, adding that "if we really want to dig out the roots of sectarianism, we must do what's difficult, and have the courage to tackle the historical anomaly of religious segregation in our schools."
"This staggeringly intolerant attitude is symptomatic of a simplistic belief that educating children in a faith-based environment is wrong and will inevitably lead to conflict and strife in society," Kearney fired back Wednesday.
"Sectarian, like racial, discrimination is not taught in schools but bred, through ignorance, in homes and spread through society at large," he wrote.
"Around Europe and across the world, Catholic schools exist and prosper in societies bereft of the bigotry and intolerance found here," Kearney noted. "In reality, the historical religious divisions that still leave us tainted with sectarian bigotry, pre-date the existence of Catholic schools, so cannot have been created by them."
Woods' comments followed a flare-up of sectarian tensions in Glasgow, the Catholic heartland of Scotland; earlier this month, Protestant fraternal groups clashed with Catholics during a series of weekend marches, prompting the Glasgow City Council to ban future parades.
In his rebuttal, Kearney pointed out that sectarianism pervades Scottish society, and that it is often characterized by strident anti-Catholicism.
"Ultimately, Scotland should be very wary of the self-indulgent delusion that sectarianism is a west of Scotland problem," he warned. "It exists across the country, as Crown Office hate crime statistics show, in almost exact proportion to the Catholic population of different areas."
"The reason there are so few sectarian crimes committed in Aberdeenshire or Shetland is because there are so few Catholics against whom they might be perpetrated and not because these places are oases of tolerance," Kearney added. "Like racism, anti-Catholicism tends to be found where its targets are most numerous. Its absence elsewhere should not be conflated with geographically distinct virtue."
Though Catholics make up just 16% of Scotland's population, they are the primary targets of religiously motivated hate crimes. A Scottish government report issued last year revealed that 319 anti-Catholic incidents were reported in 2017–2018 — half of all religiously motivated attacks in the country.