Combating Cultural Vandalism: The Scottish Example

November 2011

According to census data from the last decade, Catholics in Scotland comprise a mere seventeen percent of the country’s total population. Even so, all were reminded of the Church’s noble heritage in the land of Braveheart when Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Sal­mond, noted that the Catholic Church was “the anchor, the rock of the independence movement in the days of Wallace and Bruce. It was the only institutional force that could be relied upon — it certainly wasn’t the nobles” (The Tablet, July 25, 2009). Catholicism was outlawed in Scotland for almost two hundred and forty years, with unofficial persecution following emancipation, and still the Church — as rock and anchor — saw the faithful through it all.

Today’s Scottish Catholics are largely the descendants of Irish and Highland migrants who moved to Scotland’s cities and towns during the nineteenth century, with more recent Polish immigrants boosting the numbers of continental European Catholics there. With such a past record of fighting the good fight over the centuries, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the bishops of Scotland have come out swinging in the debate over same-sex marriage in their country. (N.B. Although Scotland is part of Great Britain, it has its own national legislative body.) At the prospect of marriage between homosexuals being legalized in Scotland, Keith Cardinal O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, and Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley all made powerful public statements warning of the dangers of same-sex marriage. Their remarks came in response to the Scottish government’s announced fourteen-week “public consultation” on the issue.

Quoted in the Scottish Catholic Observer (Sept. 16), Cardinal O’Brien said that legalizing gay marriage would represent a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” As an institution, marriage “long predates the existence of any state or government,” he continued. “It was not created by government and should not be changed by them; instead, recognizing the innumerable benefits which marriage brings to society, [government] should act to protect and uphold it not attack or dismantle it.” The cardinal, also president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, added that if the Scottish government attempts to demolish a universally recognized human institution, it “will shame Scotland in the eyes of the world.” O’Brien also accused politicians of being “disingenuous” and of “staggering arrogance” for suggesting that churches would not be obliged to solemnize gay marriages. The cardinal, not buying into the rhetoric, promised that the Catholic Church would do everything possible to protect authentic marriage.

Over in Glasgow, Archbishop Conti released his own statement on the proposal, describing any marriage between people of the same gender as meaningless: “We are talking not of human rights or of civil liberties, nor of legal or fiscal equalities, but of redefining a particular relationship to give it a meaning it doesn’t possess. We would use a word which carries huge significance, and render it meaningless in respect of one of its essential attributes, its capacity to create a natural family — I mean of course [the word] marriage.”


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New Oxford Notes: November 2011

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