Both Celtic and Glasgow fans are campaigning against a bill that would criminalise displays of bigotry on the terraces

Bigotry against Catholics north of the border increased after Pope Benedict’s visit. “It had a crystallising effect in that it boosted the morale of Scottish Catholics,” says Peter Kearney, the Scottish Catholic Church spokesman. “However, it steeled the nerve of detractors. Perversely, the visit did bring about some greater animosity. There was a resurgence of sectarianism among a minority of Scots.”

Despite Scotland’s 800,000 Catholics making up around 17 per cent of the population, anti-Catholic hostility, according to Kearney, is “deep, and wide and vicious”. His views on the “shame of Scotland” are confirmed by a Crown Office report stating that Catholics are five times more likely than anyone else to be victims of religiously aggravated crimes.

As the majority of Rangers fans come from Protestant traditions and the supporters of Celtic are mostly from a Catholic tradition, football matches are often the scene of ugly displays of bigotry. This is the subject of George Galloway’s new book, Open Season, about how Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, refused to bow to sectarian “bombs, bullets and bigots” on the terraces and the “centuries-old Scottish bigotry against Catholics, Irish Catholics in particular”.

But if a draconian bill goes through the Scottish Parliament, sectarianism on terraces will be criminalised. Under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill, anyone in Scotland inciting sectarian violence at a game, or on the internet, will face up to five years imprisonment. Appalled at the possibility of arrest for chanting a song or slogan, both Celtic and Rangers supporters are backing “Kill the Bill” protests.

The Catholic Church in Scotland is thriving and boasts a high ratio of local priests to church-going congregation. Supplementing the 720 priests in its ecclesiastical life are 65 permanent deacons. “The number in Scotland has doubled in six years,” says Deacon Tony Schmitz. A former journalist and academic publisher, this 67-year-old married man has been the Scottish bishops’ director of studies for the diaconate since 2002.

“Deacons can officiate at funerals, baptisms and weddings, assist at the altar, proclaim the Gospel, preach apart from their role as ministers to the sick and the needy, the imprisoned and the addicted,” he says. This ministry in its permanency is distinct from that of parish priests who ordinarily spend around a year before their ordination as deacons.

Many people, though, are surprised to see a man in clerical robes wearing a wedding ring officiating at a Catholic funeral or baptism. Permanent deacons can take on many of a priest’s liturgical and sacramental functions as well as pastoral and teaching work. Indeed, they can carry out many of the duties of a priest, except celebrating the Eucharist and hearing Confessions – even wearing a Roman collar is permissible if the bishop thinks it appropriate.

Vatican II reintroduced the ancient sacramental order of the permanent diaconate, but numbers have only increased in the last few decades. Although a married candidate can be ordained as a deacon, no deacon can marry after ordination.

“Worldwide there are now almost 40,000 permanent Catholic deacons, about half of whom are in North America,” says Mr Schmitz. “In England there are almost 700.”

Some are in part-time ministry, being in secular employment. Some are in full-time ministry. Strangely, the increase in the ordination of married men into this first degree of the Sacrament of Holy Orders seems to have gone unnoticed. Why is it not used in arguments about the easing of restrictions on celibacy?