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Fans unite to kill bill to end sectarianism

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

By on Thursday, 10 November 2011

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?

  • Anonymous

    “Deacons can officiate at funerals, baptisms and weddings”

    How? They can’t celebrate a nuptial mass or a requiem mass.

  • Anonymous

    “Why is it not used in arguments about the easing of restrictions on celibacy?”

    If celibacy is lifted for the secular priesthood, would this leave us with a completely monastic episcopate? This is the problem which doing so might cause.

  • Anonymous

    What’s this article actually about? Sectarianism in Scotland, permanent deacons or priestly celibacy?

  • James

    There is no requirement for a Mass at either a wedding or a funeral.

  • James

    The real reason Celtic fans at least are against this bill, is that all of the specified offences contained in it are already subject to legislation.

    The bill proposes to add a new offence – that of, “other,” behaviour likely to cause offence to, “any reasonable person.” The purpose is to criminalise songs referencing the IRA which are sung by some Celtic fans, but which the Scottish courts have already ruled do not constitute sectarian behaviour.

    In other words, the sectarian songs sung by Rangers fans already constitute illegal behaviour. The purpose of the new bill is to, “even things up,” between the two sets of fans, by criminalising chants by Celtic fans, which are NOT sectarian. The wording of the bill though, means that almost anything chanted at football matches can be illegal, as long as it is likely to cause, “offence,” to any reasonable person. The problem is, who decides?

  • Anonymous

    Scotland doesn’t have a sectarian problem. Scotland has an anti-Catholic problem. Only once this is recognised and accepted by the Scottish Government and by Scottish society in general will progress be made.

  • Anonymous

    Bishops in the Orthodox churches are monks as are the bishops in the Eastern Rite Catholic churches in communion with the Holy See. Why would it be a problem in the Latin Rite? Remember that for a 1000 years, many (if not most) priests were married throughout the Church. Celibacy is a wonderful gift but it is not integral to the Priesthood.

  • Anonymous

    It is arrant nonsense to claim that chants by Celtic fans are not sectarian. I support a provincial Scottish team, and when Old Firm fans come dragging their knuckles to our stadium, the only difference between them is the colour they wear. They are two sides of the same coin.

    Many Old Firm fans arriving at away grounds are already under the influence of alcohol, and their behaviour reflects this. Most of them are ignorant of the meaning of the songs they are singing, and thier grasp of Scottish/Irish history is minimal.

    This article, incidentally, is completely incoherent. What does it purport to be about?

  • Eamonn Gaines

    The debate about married men in the diaconate is only just beginning to heat up. A quick look at the articles by and responses to Dr Ed Peters on the requirement of continence (i.e. sexual abstinence even while married) on the part deacons shows that there’s huge trouble brewing on this issue. It might a while to come to a head though…

    Dr Peters writings (some popular, some very scholarly) can be found here

  • Stuart12

    The Catholic Church in Scotland is thriving, is it? Ask among the pews what the Mass is, and you may end up with a number of baffling responses.

    Bizarre article. From anti-sectarian legislation to the glories of the permanent diaconate to priestly celibacy.

  • EditorCT

    The following remark entirely discredits this entire article:

    “The Catholic Church in Scotland is thriving”

    WHAT!!!!!  You jus gotta be kidding.  You need to get yourself on the Catholic Truth mailing list or read the newsletter online without delay.  If the Catholic Church in Scotland is thriving, we should all go out and buy chocolate teapots – they’re terrific!

  • EditorCT

    Excellent point.  When we’re on our deathbed, a deacon, whether married, single or transgender, is about as much use as… well… a chocolate teapot.

  • EditorCT

    Historian Tom Devine told an assembly of Catholics of the Motherwell Diocese a few short years ago that the (former) First Minister, said exactly that:  he wasn’t a Catholic but he acknowledged that we don’t have a sectarian problem, we have an anti-Catholic problem.

  • Torkay

    “The Catholic Church in Scotland is thriving and boasts a high ratio of local priests to church-going congregation.”

    Please define “thriving.” A closed seminary? Clergy who wouldn’t recognize Tradition if it bit their noses off? Protestants allowed to use Catholic churches? Bishops more interested in global warming than in teaching their flocks? Laity who never heard of Summorum Pontificum?


  • Anonymous

    I don’t see what’s wrong with what appears to be an entirely sensible bill??

    Let’s support efforts to stop the disgrace that has become the behaviour of Rangers and Celtic fans.

  • Bellator

    James, it depends how you define “sectarian”? Lets face it, half of these Celtic yob types aren’t Catholic in any meaningful sense. They even glorify terrorist gangs who went to Spain to murder nuns and priests for the Soviet Union (ie – the International Brigades), which is as bad as anything Rangers do. Celtic yobs certainly promote intercommunal strife (a secular sectarianism) by singing IRA songs and their general anti-British nonsense. IMO the club itself should be shut down and/or those who glorify terrorism banned from benefiting from anything which is funded by the British taxpayer (ie – health care, dole, housing benefits, etc).