Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Sectarianism and Secularism: Bugbears for the Catholic Church in Scotland

by Bishop Joseph Devine


Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell, Scotland, gave this address at St. Aloysius College in Glasgow. It was part of the Gonzaga Lecture series and was titled Sectarianism and Secularism: Bugbears for the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Bishop first discussed, from a historical perspective, the effects of sectarianism on the Church in Scotland. He then tackled secularism and how to restore Christian values in a secularized society.

Publisher & Date

Diocese of Motherwell, March 11, 2008


I am happy to be with you again, four years after I was last here, then reflecting on the way ahead for the Church in Scotland in the light of significant falling attendances at weekend Vigil Masses and on Sundays and how the Church was to respond. For those here tonight who were here four years ago, I failed to factor in a quite extraordinary event that has happened in the past three years, namely, the levels of immigrant Polish Catholics to Scotland in that period. To show you what I mean, what the Irish did from 1850-1910, the Poles have achieved in the years from 2004-07. No-one could have predicted that outcome 4 years ago.

In the past three years, Scottish Dioceses have attracted 18 Polish priests on a permanent basis to meet the needs of this new force in the Catholic Church in Scotland. Eighty-five thousand Poles are now to be found in our land. That will increase and those attending Mass on Sundays will rise quite significantly.

I had no idea four years ago that within three years, 2000 Poles would be attending Mass in the Cathedral in Edinburgh every weekend, with about a third of that number in Motherwell Cathedral, with similar numbers attending Mass in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee to say nothing of those attending Mass in West Lothian parishes. Portsmouth. Over 700,000 Poles are to be found in London, with a tenth of that number being found in Portsmouth diocese. Bishop Crispian Hollis.

I want to pursue two different agendas this evening, the first being a cancer at the heart of Scottish society today, namely sectarianism, in all of its forms. The main form of that cancer is in relation to the Old Firm. I have sympathy for Rangers’ supporters, as they no longer know what kind of songs that they can sing. It shows you the confusion in regard to this topic. So let me try to unpack for you the kind of issues that we are confronting here.



Five years ago James McMillan claimed sectarianism was rife in Scotland. I can still see the headlines. He was correct, although the truth of his allegation was contested at the time. Later, I provided a chapter in a book by Professor Tom Devine, now Deputy Principal of Edinburgh University, called Scotland’s Shame. What I was trying to do was to show that sectarianism had many elements of social engineering in its making.


If you look at the history of Lanarkshire in the past 150 years, although the same is broadly true about West Lothian, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire, in village communities, separated by about a mile, they can be seen as either Protestant or Catholic, Carfin and Newarthill, New Stevenson/Holytown, Harthill/Chapelhall, Caldercruix/Plains, Newton/Hallcraig, as well as Coatbridge and Airdrie, but most of all, in Craigneuk and Shieldmuir.

If you were a Protestant, the place was called Craigneuk. If you were a Catholic, it was Shieldmuir, the home parish of the late Cardinal Winning. (THESE ARE ALL LANARKSHIRE EXAMPLES, BUT I COULD PROVIDE OTHER EXAMPLES).

Social engineering kept the two major Church communities in Lanarkshire apart, based on the industries dominant in this county at the time. Why I want to concentrate on what is called Lanarkshire is because of its special makeup. It is an area of the country where a large population exists but no cities are to be found. What are found are large and small towns. That is the kind of situation uniquely fruitful for the promotion of sectarianism, where the major forms of industry were steel and coal mining. The shorthand for all of this was that Protestants had the better jobs in the steel industry and the Catholics were down in the pits.

Of course Protestants also went down in the pits, but they went down Protestant pits and Catholics went down Catholic pits. This is well illustrated in The Definitive Jock Stein by Archie McPherson, where he says that the major land owner, the Duke of Hamilton made sure Protestant miners went to pits in Bothwell, while Catholic miners worked in the pits in Blantyre.

Neither of those industries did any favour to the men of that time. Each form of work was dangerous. Many lost their lives in those industries. More lost their lives in the pits rather than in steel works. Eight years ago, the Provost of North Lanarkshire went to Moodiesburn to commemorate such a tragedy, when 47 miners went to their deaths in the pit disaster at Achenghiech in 1959. Many of you will remember that event.

On a pastoral visit to Moodiesburn years ago, I met a former miner who told me that he should have died on that day. By then an old man, suffering from lung disease, from which so many miners died, what he told me was astonishing. The miners had been on strike for the previous week. The dispute was resolved on the Thursday. It never crossed his mind to go back to work on a Friday. Had he done so, he would have died. But the real question for tonight is the policy behind the social engineering of all those years ago. There were several reasons. Let me list a few of them.

One of the more interesting is to be found in Coatbridge, the largest town of a Catholic identity in Lanarkshire. I am going to counter a myth about Coatbridge. The Catholic population of the town is only 55%. Another myth is that Airdrie is the most Protestant town in the country, even if the evidence shows that 40% of the local population in Airdrie is Catholic.

That myth is substantiated by one of the funnier stories that I have heard of late, in regards to a Rangers supporter who was asked to justify his claim to fame as the greatest fan of his team. The proof that he offered was that he went to Airdrie for his summer holidays! So Coatbridge and Airdrie are not quite as representative of the Catholic and Protestant divide as is popularly imagined.

Large numbers of the famine victims from Ireland flooded into Coatbridge in the last four decades of the 19th century. The Protestant owners of the steel works in the villages in what was to become Coatbridge, out of their own wealth, build five churches for the Church of Scotland to maintain a reformed church membership in Coatbridge, so you can see that around 130 years ago there was a fear about Catholic immigrants coming in to what was ever going to be a significant center of Catholic families in Lanarkshire, the kind of social engineering is fairly evident in the Coatbridge of 130 years ago, (Catholics) would be so very numerous that a threat might be posed to the resident Protestant community. Those who owned factories in Coatbridge heavily dependent on ball bearings being transported by the Forth and Clyde canal, then transported by rail to Coatbridge from my home town, Kirkintilloch, by the first railway link in Scotland between Coatbridge and Kirkintilloch, saw themselves as having a civic duty to preserve the reformed faith in Coatbridge. That was why they built those five parish churches in Coatbridge as they feared that the volume of immigrants from Ireland in the 1850’s, 1860’s, 1870’s and 1880’s would result in a huge congregation of Catholics in one place. Their fears were not misplaced.

We see three parishes of that era being established in Coatbridge around that time: St Patrick’s in 1895 with an earlier foundation in 1843, St Mary’s in Whifflet in 1874 and St Augustine’s in 1894. What it tells me about Coatbridge is that in an era over 100 years ago was that the Irish were telling the Scottish Protestant community of the time that they had come and were here to stay. They had thrown down the gauntlet, come what may. But an unexpected factor was to emerge contemporaneously in Larkhall.


The Duke of Hamilton did the resident Catholic community of the time at Lanarkshire no favours when he established the town of Larkhall around 1870. He needed new workers for his mines and flax fields. He recruited most of them from Larne in Northern Ireland. Due to this, in the past 45 years, with the troubles in Northern Ireland between loyalists and the IRA, 3,200 people died, so many of them being innocent people and among those who died were cousins and second cousins of families in Larkhall today.

The Catholic parish and its first church in the town, the church being a building which served as a school for the Catholic children of the area, was established in 1872, on the condition that it was built half a mile from the village center, thereby ensuring that it was built outside the town. The original school building is still there to this day and serves the same purpose as it did 136 years ago. (Mgr.Jack Gillen story about Jock Stein).

So you can see why there is much tension between Protestants and Catholics in that town, not at all helped by the fact that the Red, Amber and Green traffic lights in that town were regularly punched out to give Larkhall the unique privilege of having traffic lights that are red, amber and white. (Give a recent example, 15th January of this year).

The railings in the public park are red, white and blue, not to show loyalty to the Queen but to a Govan football team. The compelling evidence is to be found in the colouring of the electricity sub stations. All over the country, they are a pale green colour. In Larkhall they are painted grey. Where else could you find such a mentality?


There were profound historical reasons for the animosity against Catholics from 1560 to 1745, from the Reformation Parliament to the revolt by those who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie after the raising of the standard in 1745. I do not want to rehearse the history of the past 450 years. All I want to do is to pick out some significant points.

The Protestant Reformation came late to Scotland, with the Reformation Parliament of 1560. The Reformation was more successful in Scotland than in any other country of Europe, with the exception of Sweden. The Catholic Church was swept away, except in a few places, in the islands of the Western Isles along with pockets in Aberdeenshire and South Galloway.

Then there was the great tragedy for the remaining Catholic community of the time, with the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie as the Young Pretender and his quest to restore the Stuart Monarchy (The story of Bellahouston).

On raising the standard at Moidart, he received great support from the Catholic clans of the Western Isles. Once his victories ended, after Prestonpans, he turned north at Derby as he received little support from the Catholics in Lancashire. His fate was sealed at the Field of Culloden. What was the view of the Catholics who had been his supporters? There was one answer for the British people. They were traitors. Hence the reason for the Highland clearances, where people were deemed to be of less value than sheep.

The Duke and Duchess of Sutherland bear a huge responsibility for what happened 250 years ago. Many were deported to Nova Scotia, with the result that Nova Scotia is the most Catholic Province in Canada. Meanwhile, at home, things were not going well for the remaining Catholics. To show you what I mean, in 1796, 212 years ago, there were more anti-Catholic societies in Glasgow than there were Catholics, as at that time there were but five Catholics resident in Glasgow.


The early immigrants who came from Ireland were in the form of itinerant workers on farms and in the fruit picking industries. But a greater form of immigration came from 1850 to 1910, due to the famine and the failure of the potato crop. Eighty-five thousand new immigrants from Ireland came to Scotland in that period. Such an influx of new immigrants caused a lot of difficulty to the resident population. Let me explain this in local terms. In Lanarkshire it is easy to see the major centers for the Catholic community 170 years ago. The first was in Airdrie, in 1839, when a parish was established for workers of that era. The second was in Hamilton in 1846, as well as in harvesting the orchards of South Lanarkshire.

It is with the founding of a new Catholic parish community in Carluke in 1849, that we see a new development taking place. This is the start of the industrial revolution where there was a need to provide new road and rail links to England. The Irish navy, the proper word being ‘navigator’, first came into being in Carluke. To be part of the revolution that would help Scotland to compete with England, when in a short span of no more than 50 years, the vast majority of the people of this land would live in cities, not in villages, Scotland needed rapid means of transport. At that time, such means of transport were roads and railways.

You may wonder why I am so sure of these facts. The answer is simple. All I need do is to look at the Catholic Directory in the past 150 years and examine the foundation dates of parish communities of what is now Motherwell Diocese. We see rapid increases in the Catholic parishes in Coatbridge from 1853 to 1893, as well as in Wishaw and Hamilton.

I see the same rapid increases in Mossend, Carfin, Chapelhall, Uddingston, Cleland and Motherwell. These represent the new wave of Irish immigrants who came to find a way forward for their families in the more traditional forms of industry in Lanarkshire, steel and coal.

Few wanted to make their homes in Scotland. Almost all wanted to go to America. The majority failed to do so, as they did not have the money for that journey. As they came here they were faced by hostility. I am old enough to remember seeing jobs adverts in my home town of ‘no Catholic need apply’ as recently as 1953. Can you begin to imagine the situation for Catholic immigrants in 1853? No wonder, given the deprivation and great poverty in the overcrowded East End of Glasgow, that a Marist Brother founded a small football team to establish from attendances at its games, soup kitchens to feed the hungry from Bridgeton to Parkhead Cross. His name was Brother Walfred. A year or so ago, I was delighted to be a guest at the unveiling of a statue to him before the main entrance to Celtic Park.


I am also old enough to recall that my father took the day off on Christmas Day, without pay, in 1953, as it was not a public holiday. What changed that perspective was television. My family had a TV set in 1954, the first house in my home street to have a TV set. For the first time, Scots saw how the English celebrated Christmas. The effect was immediate. Within a year, Scots began to celebrate Christmas and the New Year began to wane.

For reasons that I cannot understand, the Church of Scotland saw Christmas as a ‘Catholic thing’, instead of as the second greatest feast of the Christian year. I remain baffled as to why the reformed church wanted to celebrate New Year in preference to Christmas. I have one final thought on the sectarian issue. Professor Patrick Reilly of Glasgow University was wont to say many years ago, ‘ask any Catholic household in West Central Scotland regarding jobs for Catholics in the 20’s, the 30’s and into the 40’s and you will find resentment levels of Himalayan proportions.’ Now, is that not a great line? I am able to illustrate the same outcome from a huge number of witnesses.

I will settle for one to show you that sectarianism is far from dead. (Fr Dominic Quin), as well as a young man who was an employee of Rangers Football Club as a technician in upgrading its computer programs. Only a few years ago, all his fellow employees in that section of the work at Ibrox Stadium received a turkey and a bottle of whiskey as a Christmas gift. He was the only one to receive nothing. I continue to wonder that this might have been due to the fact that his name was James Anthony Docherty. The Quin story is much more damaging for the Authorities at Ibrox.


Now I turn to the second bugbear for the Catholic Church in our times, a different kind of bugbear, that of secularism. This is a different kind of animal, as it is a more dangerous threat, as it is insidious. This second part of my presentation will be more philosophic in style. I am really an Aristotelian philosopher, where my basic premise is that of realism. I will do my best to avoid jargon to ensure that you are able to follow what I want to say, not least as much of what I want to say is in relation to addressing what is the flavour of the month in British politics, political correctness. As I will hope to show, political correctness has much in common with the aspiration of secularism.

What I am going to explore is how to restore Christian values in a secularized society. It is a tall order, as Christian values are being opposed with great hostility by so many. Our influence is ebbing from public life and we find ourselves at odds with popular culture and political opinion on moral issues affecting bioethics, the right to life as well as family and sexual ethics. In this section of what I want to share with you I am going to depend on the work done by Philip Trower, an English philosopher, who has given much attention to the issue that I now want to pursue.

A) Restoring Christian values in a secularized society. Liberty and Equality

The heart of the problem lies with the prominence given to what are seen to be the supreme values of today, liberty and equality. These are not the supreme values. Truth and goodness are the supreme values. Liberty is seen as the absence of restraint, rather than the freedom to do what is right, with equality being transformed into a justification of the sameness of social institutions. That is why I went to war with the Labour Governments in Westminster and Holyrood last year, due to what is called political correctness, as they made liberty and equality the supreme moral values for the agenda that they wanted to introduce.

In effect, what they were doing was introducing a new kind of morality, a kind of morality that was bound to result in moral mayhem, as it was not based on truth and goodness. That is what happened. We now have a kind of state sponsored morality that is at war with our Christian tradition. Mark me well when I tell you why this is so. It is because liberty and equality have replaced truth and goodness. This is the heart of the problem. When liberty and equality are made the supreme values, not truth and goodness, then we have an agenda that is no longer answerable to what is true and what is good. This is by far the most important thing that I am going to say tonight. So write it down. I will repeat if for all of you. WHEN LIBERTY AND EQUALITY ARE MADE THE SUPREME VALUES, NOT TRUTH AND GOODNESS, THEN WE HAVE AN AGENDA THAT IS NO LONGER ANSWERABLE TO WHAT IS TRUE AND WHAT IS GOOD.

I am a philosopher reared in the tradition of Aquinas. Just about the most important thing that he ever wrote was: parvus error in initio magnus fit in fine.  Loosely translated means make a wee error at the start and God knows if it will ever be able to be corrected. I could have translated that in different ways. I translated it in the way I did to give some indication of what it will take to undo the legislation now enacted to make other kinds of relationships as valid as marriage. The big change in the thinking of our parliamentarians was to replace truth with freedom and to replace goodness with equality. It is staggering what has resulted.

Let me look at a few examples of the primacy of goodness over equality. In the Constitution of the United States, the opening words are that all men are created equal. The use of the word equal is limited. It means equal before the law. In almost every other sense we are not equal, except in the respect of our basic human rights. The US Constitution saw such basic human rights, equality apart, being in regard to freedom and the pursuit of what it called happiness. I have no major quarrel with that analysis except to point to the fact that it neglected the most basic human right of all, the right to life. Notice why it did this. I am sure you can see the reason. The reason is that it did not enshrine the values of truth and goodness before equality and freedom as such a basic right would have been blindly obvious to the Founding Fathers of the United States. Such a right did not need to be stated, as it would have been a thing that was self evident to people who lived here or anywhere 230 years ago, or as recently as 41 years ago, as the Abortion Act was passed 41 years ago.

Exactly the same emerges when we contrast truth with freedom. Aquinas defines truth as the conformity of the intellect with reality. The problem emerges when the will blinds the mind to making false choices. That was why our parliamentarians make such false choices. I now want to explore the reasons why they did so.

B) Cell of Society

For centuries the Church has defended the family as the key building block of society. The recent changes in legislation have transformed that understanding of family and human sexuality to such an extent that there are many people in politics, law, media and education who are ready to implement a new agenda for family and social life.

C) Future Directions and Recent Legislative Changes

That is the reason why I raised merry hell with the Scottish Executive a year ago over the legislation enacted to give civil partnerships the same legal standing as marriage, as well as for homosexual couples to adopt children. My basis for doing this was that this was a new kind of state sponsored morality that was being proposed, a new bogus kind of morality. That I failed to have little influence in that matter shows the levels of support for this new kind of morality and the forms of political correctness that we now have to face. Please pay attention to what I have just said.

Fifty years ago I would have had no difficulty in gaining the support of all political parties in my endeavour. The fact that I attracted only minimal support shows the level to which we have sunk.

D) Dangers of Underestimating the Troubles

It is important for us to understand the nature and ambition of this new agenda, as well as to recognise the tools that are being used to promote its spread. Take note of what is the given, that we live in an environment where people have greater financial resources and are encouraged to spend on pleasure and all manner of possessions. Constantly I see on my TV screen, adverts for the holiday homes in wherever, usually in Spain.

With a decline in ‘religiosity’ equated with the pursuit of pleasure, the overt sexualisation of society has proceeded at a dramatic pace, much aided by soap operas on television. What I am saying is that issues around sexuality are powerful factors in shaping the policies of public authorities. At least in part, this explains the influential presence of what we call the homosexual movement in public life. We neglect, at our peril, the power of this movement to marginalise religion in society. I now want to examine the progress of those who have been instrumental for the astonishing success of the homosexual movement in recent times. Let me remind you of its significant moments.

I remind you that the greatest obstacle to halting the advance of the secularist culture has been our failure to recognise the ambition of the protagonists of that agenda. In seven years there has been a massive transformation in our understanding of family life. The plan for that transformation taking place at the time were not widely known and were so ambitious that, even for those in the know, they were not taken seriously.

To gain an insight into the end point aimed at by homosexual campaign groups, consider the terms ‘homophobia’ and ‘heterosexist’ to understand what those terms mean, so as to understand what the abolition of those supposed social evils they represent will achieve.

Homophobia is understood to be a dislike of homosexuality, so that heterosexuality is the norm. But by having homophobia and heterosexuality recognised as social evils akin to racism or sexism, it was made possible by law to have homosexuality become acceptable in society and have society become indifferent to the forms of relationships which individuals choose to enter, or make the basis of their family life. Do you see what is happening here? It was this kind of logic that led GB to say seventy years ago “For God’s sake take me to a pub!”

E) The recent legislative changes

Now let us see how all of this came about in the law of the land. In 2000 we saw the removal of the law which prevented the promotion of homosexuality by Local Authorities, as it was maintained that no-one would ever want to promote homosexuality.

Look carefully at what this means. The logic of removing a law which prohibits what no one wants to do is applied to no other area, unless it is decided that it is acceptable to do what was once proscribed. In fact, this is exactly what happened. Massive funding was made available to groups involved in youth work, focusing on bullying and sexual health services. I take it that you can see where I am going. If that is not the case, let me provide you with a kind of road map.

The next step was the promotion of the concept that sexuality is not biologically determined but socially constructed. The sexual health strategy allowed further growth in what is now seen to be the equivalence of heterosexual and homosexual behaviour. The same policy led to children having access to sexual health services without parental knowledge or consent.

I remember being for my only time in California in 1973, for nine weeks as a supply priest in a parish in South San Francisco.  As there is a time difference of three hours between California and Washington, where the trial of all the President’s men was taking place before an old judge of the Supreme Court, what I remember best is what Judge Sam Irvine would say as he found all the conspirators guilty of all manner of wrong doing. He would say ‘is this not a situation that would make justice weep?’ I say the same about the legislation enacted in our parliaments, all of it enacted in our name, even if we were blinded by our ignorance in regard to what was going on. Worse was soon to follow.

In November of 2004, the Civil Partnerships Act was passed, raising to the same status as marriage, homosexual relationships by granting the same rights to each. On being passed, some form of ceremony was insisted for such civil partnerships and registrars were given no choice by local authorities other than to provide such a service. As a result, it is now the common acceptance of society that those entering civil partnerships is the same as being married. At the same time, Local Authorities removed all references to such things as marriage, in preference to replacing such terms as husband, wife or spouse, for another vocabulary such as partner or civil partner. Constantly I hear that term “my partner” used on TV and radio. It is almost as if few adults today, outside the Catholic community, have a wife or a husband any more.

I was sure, two years ago, where the next objective is going to be on the road map. It was going to be about children. Having established that homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships in providing an environment in which children can be raised, the adoption bill provided such an outcome, again another strike against marriage.

It was at this point, when I saw what the legislation entailed, that I went to war against the Scottish Executive. I did this on my own behalf, as I was convinced that the only way ahead was to defeat the primary legislation. I did not have the support of the Bishops as they had been advised by our Parliamentary Officer that the Scottish Executive would find a way to protect our agencies in the adoption field. I felt it was flawed advice. I could go on about this, not least when Jack McConnell was challenged to have a debate with me about the matter and he was not willing to do so, not least as he could not win, as 89% of the Scottish people did not want that legislation to be enacted, with gay and lesbian couples being given the right to adopt children.

Ultimately, I was proved to be right. It gave me no pleasure, as our two adoption agencies, despite the wonderful work that they have done for over seventy years, are open to closure, even though they are fighting a rearguard action to remain in business. I think that this may not be possible. Months ago, both the British Prime Minister of the time, Tony Blair and the First Minister here, tried to find a formula to protect our Adoption Agencies. They failed as they could not command the support of Labour members either at Westminster or in Holyrood. No wonder I said that I would not be voting for any Labour candidate for the Scottish Parliament.

You may wonder about the effect that such a remark might make. It had an astonishing outcome. The group leader of Labour in North Lanarkshire came to see me before the elections last May. He was upset, as he and his colleagues were worried in regard to the messages on the doorsteps of their constituents regarding what I had said about MSPs. I assured them that my one concern was in regard to Labour candidates for the Holyrood Parliament and I had no issue with local councilors of whatever party as none of them were responsible for enacting legislation. I encouraged them to send a letter to the parishes of the diocese making clear that distinction. All the Labour MSPs in Lanarkshire were returned with greatly reduced majorities and its First Minister soon thereafter lost the leadership of his party at Holyrood.

F) Some Dangerous People

Let me make myself very clear. The Equality Act created a new body, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, a body that has the right to take up cases for those who feel that there has been discrimination under the provisions of the Equality Act. Note what I am about to say. Ben Summerskill is the Chief Executive of Stonewall and is one of the commissioners of that Commission. His predecessor at Stonewall, Angela Mason, is head of the department which produced the sexual orientation regulations.

It is at this point that I want to pause for a moment and ask you if you are able to see the giant conspiracy taking place before our eyes, even if we did not see it at the time. I take it that you are now beginning to see that there was a huge and well orchestrated conspiracy taking place which the Catholic community had missed. It astonishes me that we failed to become aware of the mischief that the two people whom I have just mentioned have managed to achieve.

In the recent New Years Honours List, I saw that, to widespread public acclaim, the actor Ian McKellar was honoured for his work on behalf of homosexuals, being awarded the same status as heterosexuals. A century ago, Oscar Wilde was locked up in Reading Jail for the kind of sin that was not able to speak its name. That sin was homosexuality. Now we include in the Honours List people who live a lifestyle that is totally at odds with the family and children. According to the law of the land, this is no longer the definition of a family. A family can be any kind of assortment of people, two men and a child or two women and a child or any other kind of permutation that you can devise, as in the law of the land, each or any of those permutations are equally valid.

I am sure that the conclusion that I have drawn will have shocked you. If it has, be ready for what I am now about to say. Where were you when this legislation was being enacted? I tried to do my best to challenge the Scottish Executive about our adoption agencies. I had all manner of support from all kinds of people from parts of the land. Most were from members of the Church of Scotland who saw me as their bishop! I found that description astonishing, given the traditional opposition to bishops in the national church. I knew what those people meant in their letters and phone calls. I had given them a voice, when the leadership of their own church had been silent. Where were you, the articulate members of the Catholic Church in Scotland? Of course, I was aware of the fact that what I was saying was to represent what you were thinking. But you have to be more vocal in showing your disapproval of what is enacted in Holyrood in your letters to your local MSP’s .

Currently, educational initiatives are underway to introduce young children to positive examples of gay and lesbian relationships. The homosexual lobby has been very effective in aligning itself with minority groups. It is ever present at the service each year for Holocaust Memorial, so as to create for itself the image of a group of people under persecution. It is worthy of note that Brazil is currently considering imprisoning priests who preach against homosexuality.

Let me return again to my main theme. That main theme is that the media, soaps and film industry have promoted values detrimental to family life. What they have done is to have coarsened attitudes and prepared society to be much more accepting of such things as promiscuity, infidelity and a wide variety of sexual lifestyles. At the same time, the values of Christianity are being pilloried as impediments to these new freedoms.

The future agenda is clear. Society today is now so hostile to religion that it will be difficult to promote Christianity in such a culture. Government bodies will not help even if a majority of people in our land will be on our side. To change the minds of the leaders of our society is a much more delicate task, as I well know and have tried to show.


There is a need to establish principles around which a Christian culture can be regenerated. The bedrock of this fight-back has to be around these three areas, freedom of conscience, the importance of family and the stability of family life.

I believe, with all that is in me, that this is the moral battle ground for the future. It is a battle ground on which we can win, for it is Christianity and Christianity alone which has a message of salvation. But a vital aspect to consider is that in establishing principles behind any campaign, they must be resistant to being corrupted by secularism.

This can occur only all too easily if we accept terms which we may be able to interpret favourably but others can interpret otherwise. We must avoid debating whether we are ‘homophobic’ or not. Instead we should argue that we support the well-being of all human persons, whether they are male or female. What we have to show is that we are tolerant in areas where tolerance is a good thing but we are not tolerant in areas where such tolerance would be a bad thing.

G) A modern day parable

Let me end with a modern version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the parable, the father has two sons. The younger son is anxious to have his share of his inheritance, he invests wisely and becomes immensely rich.

He comes home to find that his father is absent. In fact, some people are saying that his Dad is dead, or that he never existed. He meets his older brother who is struggling to make ends meet, as he has not been as successful as his younger brother. He asks his younger brother for help, but the only help that he is going to get from his younger brother is in a take-over from his younger brother for all his assets.

That is an allegory of the situation confronting Christianity nowadays, where the forces of secularism say that God is either dead, if he ever even existed. In this speculative version of the parable, where the Father remains as God, the prodigal son is the amazingly successful man of business and wealth who has conspired to make others think that his father is dead or never existed. So the older brother is ripe for a take-over by his younger brother who holds so many aces in his hand, immense wealth and power, being able to corrupt those who make the laws in favour of liberty and equality.

It is a situation very similar to the temptations of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness. Look what is on offer, wealth, power and privilege, all that the world of today holds dear. Such an offer cannot corrupt those who stand for truth and goodness. The younger boy is never on the side of truth and goodness, as they threaten his global domination, as they are the enemies of freedom and liberty, without any sense of responsibility. Goodness speaks about the rightness of relationships and is at enmity with a vision that says that each and any kind of human relationship is equally valid.

A couple of months ago, our Parliamentary Officer, John Deighan, told the members of the Bishops’ Conference, prior to the passing of Clause 28, that was to be the end of the agenda being advanced by those promoting such legislation. Nothing was further from the truth. Those groups had in mind the legislation which followed. More astonishing still is that the groups who have had such legislation enacted are small in number. But they are well organised. I take it that you see my point. We have to find a way of counteracting agendas opposed to the Christian vision of life.

We are now having to adopt the only remaining position open to us, that of the older brother. There are only two options. The first is to do a deal with the younger brother and sell out and capitulate or to stand and fight. I know what I am going to do. Like Gibson, in his portrayal of William Wallace in Brave Heart many years ago who said: I am going to pick a fight. So am I. Thank you for your attention this evening.

Bullet Points for the Gonzaga Lecture delivered by Bishop Devine


The McMillan Lecture

The effect of Social Engineering

The Larkhall Factor

The Stuart Uprising

The Irish Famine

A new appreciation of Christmas and the New Year


Restoring Christian Values in a Secular Society

The cell of society

Future Directions

Dangers of Underestimating the challenges ahead

Recent Legislative Changes

Some Dangerous People

What we need to do

A Modern Day Parable

A subset of legislation passing through the Parliament in Edinburgh in the recent past

Clause 28

Sexual Health

Civil Partnerships

Gender Recognition

Same Sex Adoption

Hate Crime

The End

(Converted to digital form for Catholic Culture by Patricia McKeever)

© Bishop Joseph Devine, Ph. D, Diocese of Motherwell

This item 8079 digitally provided courtesy of