Richard Dawkins calls Scottish Football Association 'craven' and Church spokesman 'a weasel' over dismissal of referees

Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, has attacked the dismissal of a prominent Scottish football official and four referees over an email containing a joke about the Pope.

The Scottish Football Association fired Hugh Dallas, its director of referee development, and four other employees, over the circulation of an email containing a joke linking the Pope and clerical child abuse, sent from Mr Dallas’s SFA email address.

The decision to sack Mr Dallas followed a call for his dismissal from the head of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, Peter Kearney, but also following controversy over a refereeing decision at Tannadice Park stadium, the home of Dundee United Football Club.

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Controversy arose when referee Dougie McDonald was accused of lying over a disallowed penalty at a match at Tannadice last month, which led to a formal warning for Mr McDonald, and the dismissal of assistant referee Steven Craven. Mr Dallas supported the decision by Mr McDonald, as did referees’ union chief Martin Cryans, but accusations of a cover-up have nevertheless persisted.

Prof Dawkins, an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, attacked the decision to dismiss Mr Dallas, saying that it was “craven giving-in to Catholic censorship”, and calling the SFA chief executive Stewart Regan a “coward”.

Prof Dawkins also said of the decision to sack Mr Dallas: “His dismissal was called for by a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland. This nasty little weasel is called Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office.”

The former Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science then exhorted his readers to send the joke contained in the original email to both Mr Kearney and Mr Regan, and gave the work email addresses of both men.

He said: “My suggestion is that we should do our best to make this joke go viral, beginning by sending hundreds of copies of it to these two addresses.

“But there are probably funnier jokes along the same lines, and I would encourage you to send as many as you can find.”

Prof Dawkins’s comments were published in an article on his personal website. Some commentators, writing below the article, criticised his suggestion on the basis of the infamous rivalry between Celtic and Rangers’ football clubs supporters.

Prof Dawkins responded by saying that sectarianism in football “should not lessen our contempt” for Mr Kearney. “Kearney was cynically exploiting Glasgow’s traditional sectarian enmities in order to further his Catholic agenda and ruin a man’s career.

“There is no reason to suppose that Dallas was being sectarian in forwarding the joke. Most plausibly he was as revolted as all decent people are by the Pope’s illegal protection of Catholic child-rapists.”

Prof Dawkins also that Mr Kearney had “a track record of doing this kind of thing”, citing Mr Kearney’s statement in 2008 that the Hokey-Cokey dance was a parody of the Mass and therefore a “faith hate crime”.

Prof Dawkins added: “Perhaps I went too far in describing the action of the Scottish Football Association as cowardly. But if anything I didn’t go far enough in expressing contempt for Peter Kearney”.

Mr Kearney responded to Prof Dawkins’s criticisms by saying that “Dawkins demonstrates again that his intolerance knows no bounds”. The Scottish Football Association has so far refused to comment on the matter.

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