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Catholic Church in Scotland

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Saint Andrew's Cross
Catholic Church in Scotland
Scottish Gaelic: An Eaglais Chaitligeach ann an Alba
Crucifixion of Saint Andrew, by Juan Correa de Vivar (1540–1545)
TheologyCatholic theology
PresidentHugh Gilbert
Apostolic NuncioMiguel Maury Buendía
LanguageEnglish, Latin
FounderSaint Ninian, Saint Mungo, Saint Columba
Originc. 200s: Christianity in Roman Britain
c. 400s: Medieval Christianity
SeparationsChurch of Scotland
Members841,053 (2011)[1]
Official websitebcos.org.uk
St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral Edinburgh

The Catholic Church in Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: An Eaglais Chaitligeach ann an Alba; Scots: Catholic Kirk in Scotland) overseen by the Scottish Bishops' Conference, is part of the worldwide Catholic Church headed by the Pope. After being firmly established in Scotland for nearly a millennium, the Catholic Church was outlawed following the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Throughout the centuries of religious persecution changes, several pockets in Scotland retained a significant pre-Reformation Catholic population, including Banffshire, the Hebrides, and more northern parts of the Highlands, Galloway at Terregles House, Munches House, Kirkconnell House, New Abbey and Parton House and at Traquair in Peebleshire.

In 1716, Scalan seminary was established in the Highlands and rebuilt in the 1760s by Bishop John Geddes, a well-known figure in Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment. When Scottish national poet Robert Burns, who also gifted the Bishop with the volume now known as The Geddes Burns, wrote to a correspondent that "the first [that is, finest] cleric character I ever saw was a Roman Catholick", he was referring to Bishop John Geddes.[2]

Catholic emancipation in 1793 and 1829 helped Catholics regain both religious and civil rights. In 1878, the Catholic hierarchy was formally restored.[3]

Many Scottish Roman Catholics are the descendants of Irish immigrants and of Scottish Gaelic-speaking migrants from the Highlands and Islands who both moved into Scotland's cities and industrial towns during the 19th century, especially during the Highland Clearances, the Highland Potato Famine, and the similar famine in Ireland. However, there are also significant numbers of people of Italian, Lithuanian,[4] and Polish descent, with more recent immigrants again boosting the numbers of continental Catholics of Eastern European descent in Scotland. Owing to immigration (overwhelmingly white European), it is estimated that, in 2009, there were about 850,000 Catholics in the country of 5.1 million.[5]

The Gàidhealtachd has been both Catholic and Protestant in modern times. A number of Scottish Gaelic-speaking areas, including Barra, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, and Moidart, are mainly Catholic. (See also the "Religion of the Yellow Stick".)

Similarly to iconic Pre-Reformation Scottish poets and writers like Aneirin, Blind Harry, Walter Kennedy, and William Dunbar, many of the most important figures in Scottish Gaelic literature have been Catholics who have written frequently about their Catholic faith in their work. Their numbers have included Scottish Gaelic national poet Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, Fr. Allan MacDonald, Allan The Ridge MacDonald, Iain Lom, Dòmhnall Iain Dhonnchaidh, Sìleas na Ceapaich, and Angus Peter Campbell. Furthermore, Scottish nationalist and literary scholar John Lorne Campbell and his wife, American ethnomusicologist Margaret Fay Shaw, who together helped lay the foundation for the modern Scottish Gaelic language revival, were both converts from Protestantism to Catholicism.

In the 2011 census, 16% of the population of Scotland described themselves as being Catholic, compared with 32% affiliated with the Church of Scotland.[6] Between 1994 and 2002, Catholic attendance in Scotland declined 19% to just over 200,000.[7] By 2008, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland estimated that 184,283 attended Mass regularly.[8]



An illuminated page from the Book of Kells, which may have been produced at Iona around 800

Christianity was probably introduced to what is now lowland Scotland from Roman soldiers stationed in the north of the province of Britannia.[9] It is presumed to have survived among the Brythonic enclaves in the south of modern Scotland, but retreated as the pagan Anglo-Saxons advanced.[10] Scotland was largely converted by Irish-Scots missions associated with figures such as St Columba from the fifth to the seventh centuries. These missions tended to found monastic institutions and collegiate churches that served large areas.[11] Partly as a result of these factors, some scholars have identified a distinctive form of Celtic Christianity, in which abbots were more significant than bishops, attitudes to clerical celibacy were more relaxed, and there were some significant differences in practice with Roman Rite, particularly the form of tonsure and the method of calculating Easter, although most of these issues had been resolved by the mid-seventh century.[12][13] After the reconversion of Scandinavian Scotland from the tenth century, Christianity under papal authority was the dominant religion of the kingdom.[14]

Medieval Catholicism[edit]

In the Norman period the Scottish church underwent a series of reforms and transformations. With royal and lay patronage, a clearer parochial structure based around local churches was developed.[15] Large numbers of new foundations, which followed continental forms of reformed monasticism, began to predominate and the Scottish church established its independence from England and developed a clearer diocesan structure, becoming a "special daughter of the see of Rome" but lacking leadership in the form of archbishops.[16] In the Late Middle Ages the problems of schism in the Catholic Church allowed the Scottish Crown to gain greater influence over senior appointments and two archbishoprics had been established by the end of the fifteenth century.[17] While some historians have discerned a decline of monasticism in the Late Middle Ages, the mendicant orders of friars grew, particularly in the expanding burghs, to meet the spiritual needs of the population. New saints and cults of devotion also proliferated. Despite problems over the number and quality of clergy after the Black Death in the fourteenth century, and some evidence of heresy in this period, the church in Scotland remained relatively stable before the Reformation in the sixteenth century.[17]

Scottish Reformation[edit]

The hanging of Saint John Ogilvie

That remained the case until the Scottish Reformation in the mid-16th century, when the Church in Scotland broke with the papacy and adopted a Calvinist confession in 1560. At that point, the celebration of the Catholic mass was outlawed.[18] Although officially illegal, the Catholic Church survived in parts of Scotland. The hierarchy of the church played a relatively small role and the initiative was left to lay leaders. Where nobles or local lairds offered protection it continued to thrive, as with Clanranald on South Uist, or in the north-east where the Earl of Huntly was the most important figure. In these areas Catholic sacraments and practices were maintained with relative openness.[19] Members of the nobility were probably reluctant to pursue each other over matters of religion because of strong personal and social ties. An English report in 1600 suggested that a third of nobles and gentry were still Catholic in inclination.[20] In most of Scotland, Catholicism became an underground faith in private households, connected by ties of kinship. This reliance on the household meant that women often became important as the upholders and transmitters of the faith, such as in the case of Lady Fernihurst in the Borders. They transformed their households into centres of religious activity and offered places of safety for priests.[19]

Because the reformed kirk took over the existing structures and assets of the Church, any attempted recovery by the Catholic hierarchy was extremely difficult. After the collapse of Mary's cause in the civil wars in the 1570s, and any hope of a national restoration of the old faith, the hierarchy began to treat Scotland as a mission area. The leading order of the Counter-reformation, the newly founded Jesuits, initially took relatively little interest in Scotland as a target of missionary work. Their effectiveness was limited by rivalries between different orders at Rome. The initiative was taken by a small group of Scots connected with the Crichton family, who had supplied the bishops of Dunkeld. They joined the Jesuit order and returned to attempt conversions. Their focus was mainly on the court, which led them into involvement in a series of complex political plots and entanglements. The majority of surviving Scottish lay followers were largely ignored.[19] Some were to convert to the Catholic Church, as did John Ogilvie (1569–1615), who went on to be ordained a priest in 1610, later being hanged for proselytism in Glasgow and often thought of as the only Scottish Catholic martyr of the Reformation era.[21] Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's illegal status had a devastating impact on The Church's fortunes, although a significant congregation did continue to adhere, especially in the more remote Gaelic-speaking areas of the Highlands and Islands.[22]

Decline from the 17th century[edit]

The college at Scalan in July 2007

Numbers probably reduced in the seventeenth century and organisation deteriorated.[23]

The Pope appointed Thomas Nicolson as the first Vicar Apostolic over the mission in 1694.[24] The country was organised into districts and by 1703 there were thirty-three Catholic clergy.[25] In 1733 it was divided into two vicariates, one for the Highland and one for the Lowland, each under a bishop. A Catholic seminary in Scalan in Glenlivet was the preliminary centre of education for Catholic priests in the area. It was illegal, and it was burned to the ground on several occasions by redcoat soldiers sent from beyond the Highlands.[26] Beyond Scalan there were six attempts to found a seminary in the Highlands between 1732 and 1838, all suffering financially under Catholicism's illegal status.[24] Clergy entered the country secretly and although services were illegal they were maintained.[25]

The aftermath of the failed Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745 further increased the persecution faced by Catholics in Scotland.[23]

According to Bishop John Geddes, "Early in the spring of 1746, some ships of war came to the coast of the isle of Barra and landed some men, who threatened they would lay desolate the whole island if the priest was not delivered up to them. Father James Grant, who was missionary then, and afterward Bishop, being informed of the threats in a safe retreat in which he was in a little island, surrendered himself, and was carried prisoner to Mingarry Castle on the Western coast (i.e. Ardnamurchan) where he was detained for some weeks."[27]

After long and cruel imprisonment with other Catholic priests at Inverness and in a prison hulk anchored in the River Thames, Grant was deported to the Netherlands and warned never to return to the British Isles. Like the other priests deported with him, Fr. Grant returned to Scotland almost immediately. His fellow prisoner, Father Alexander Cameron, the younger brother to the Chief of Clan Cameron, was less fortunate and died in the prison hulk due to the hardship of his imprisonment.[28][29] During the 21st century, the Knights of St. Columba at the University of Glasgow launched a campaign to canonize Fr. Cameron, "with the hope that he will become a great saint for Scotland and that our nation will merit from his intercession."[30] They erected a small petition book at their altar of St. Joseph in the University Catholic Chapel, Turnbull Hall. It is one of the necessary prerequisites for Canonisation in the Catholic Church that there is a cult of devotion to the saint.[30]

According to Marcus Tanner, "As the Reformed Church faltered in the urban and increasingly industrialised Lowlands, Presbyterianism made its great breakthrough among the Gaelic Highlanders, virtually snapping cultural bonds that had linked them to Ireland since the lordship of Dalriada. The Highlands, outside tiny Catholic enclaves like in South Uist and Barra, took on the contours they have since preserved - a region marked by a strong tradition of sabbatarianism and a puritanical distaste for instrumental music and dancing, which have only recently regained popular acceptance".[31]

The pioneering Victorian era folklorist and Celticist John Francis Campbell of Islay (Scottish Gaelic: Iain Òg Ìle) and his many assistant collectors had very different reasons for criticising what they saw as the unnecessary excesses of the Calvinisation of the Highlands and Islands. At the beginning of his groundbreaking collection Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Campbell and his helpers complained at length that, due to the fear of displeasing the local ministers, elders, and parish school-masters, it had become almost impossible to collect Scottish mythology or folklore from the seanchaidhs in Gaelic-speaking regions that had recently converted to Presbyterianism from Catholicism or the Scottish Episcopal Church.[32]

Exact numbers of communicants are uncertain, given the illegal status of Catholicism. In 1755 it was estimated that there were some 16,500 communicants, mainly in the north and west.[25] In 1764, "the total Catholic population in Scotland would have been about 33,000 or 2.6% of the total population. Of these 23,000 were in the Highlands."[33] Another estimate for 1764 is of 13,166 Catholics in the Highlands, perhaps a quarter of whom had emigrated by 1790,[34] and another source estimates Catholics as perhaps 10% of the population.[34]

According to Marcus Tanner, "the Disruption and the Free Church have come in for harsh criticism especially from the political left in recent years. Apart from inflicting a peculiarly censorious and dour version of Christianity on the population, they are charged with imbuing them with ultra-Calvinist pessimism and political passivity, and with encouraging them to dwell on trivial points of doctrine while their communities were being laid waste by the landlords. There is something in the charge. Few Highland ministers emulated the Catholic clergy of Ireland, who commandeered the Repeal movement in the 1830s and 1840s and the land campaigns several decades on. The Catholic clergy in agitated Irish counties like Tipperary led the agrarian militants from the front, which cannot be said for most Disruption clergy or their successors. Evangelical Presbyterianism counseled submission and acceptance of misfortune. But it was a faith chosen quite voluntarily by the people and if it failed to make them rebels against injustice, it certainly lent them dignity."[35]

Impact of the Clearances[edit]

St. Ninian's Church from 1755 is a Catholic clandestine church located at the Enzie

While most of the landlords responsible for the Highland Clearances did not target people for ethnic or religious reasons,[36] there is evidence of anti-Catholicism among some of them.[37][38][39][40][41][42][43] In particular, large numbers of Catholics emigrated from the Western Highlands in the period 1770 to 1810 and there is evidence that anti Catholic sentiment (along with famine, poverty and rising rents) was a contributory factor in that period.[44][45] In Glengarry County, Upper Canada, a colonial settlement was established for Scottish Catholic immigrants through the efforts of bishop Alexander Macdonnell. The settlement's inhabitants consisted of members of the Glengarry Fencibles, a disbanded Catholic unit of the Highland Fencible Corps, and their families.[46][47]

After receiving his post following the 1878 Restoration of the Hierarchy and during the last decade of the Clearances, Bishop Angus MacDonald of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles led by example during the height of the Highland Land League agitation. The Bishop and his priests became leading and formidable activists for tenant's rights, reasonable rents, security of tenure, free elections, and against the political bossism and religious discrimination that were keeping the Catholic population of the Highlands and Islands critically impoverished.[48][49]

According to Roger Hutchinson, Bishop MacDonald's choice to assign Gaelic-speaking priests from the Scottish mainland to parishes in the Hebrides was accordingly no accident. About that time, when the Bishop and his priests were the leaders of direct action, rent strikes, and other acts of resistance to the Anglo-Scottish landlords, Fr. Michael MacDonald has since commented, "I think that one of the things that may have influenced the boldness of the priests at that time was simply that they had no relations on the islands who could have been got at by the estate Factor or others."[50]

Large-scale Catholic immigration[edit]

During the 19th century, Irish immigration substantially increased the number of Catholics in the country, especially in Glasgow and its vicinity, and the West of Scotland. Initially, clergymen from the recusant tradition of North-East Scotland played an important part in providing support.[51] Later Italian, Polish, and Lithuanian immigrants reinforced the numbers.

The Catholic hierarchy was re-established in 1878 by Pope Leo XIII at the beginning of his pontificate. Six new dioceses were created: five of them were organised into a single province with the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh as metropolitan; the Diocese of Glasgow remained separate and directly subject to the Apostolic See.

Sectarian tensions[edit]

Mass immigration to Scotland saw the emergence of sectarian tensions. Although the interwar Catholic community in Scotland was overwhelmingly working-class and endangered by poverty and economic crises, it was able to cope with the Great Depression.[52] This relative immunity was caused by the Education (Scotland) Act 1918, which made Catholic schools fully state-funded. Michael John Rosie argues that in addition to state-funded education, it was the nature of Scottish Catholicism that "made it less vulnerable to economic dislocation":

Arguably, the Catholic Church was the best-equipped denomination in tackling the adverse effects of economic depression, and does not seem to have suffered serious losses arising from recessionary periods. The Catholic faith is often seen as being invigorated by the combined effects of poverty and discrimination; priests tended to be drawn from the working classes and to relate well to economic hardship amongst their parishioners. Though Catholics moved increasingly during this period into skilled and white-collar jobs, the Catholic community retained a homogeneity which prevented a major social divide emerging between a practising Catholic bourgeoisie and a lapsed proletariat.

— Michael John Rosie, Religion and Sectarianism in Modern Scotland, (2001), pp. 142

This relative economic stability allowed the Catholic community to enter the political and social life of Scotland, sparking outrage among anti-Catholic and unionist circles, most notably the Orange Order. Sectarian violence in Scotland reached its peak in the early 1930s, and Catholic processions were frequently interrupted by anti-Catholic and Orange mob. The Orange Order frequently staged provocative marches in Catholic neighbourhoods. The violence and skirmishes steadily escalated and had a profound effect on Scotland as a whole; Rosie remarked that "the level and scale of the violence exhibited between 1931 and 1935 of a much more serious and concerted nature than of any period since the reintroduction of Orange parades in the 1870s".[53] Sectarian violence was so severe that it caused high policing costs, and local councils were tempted to ban all "religious and pseudo-religious processions". While eventually no such ban took place, tight restrictions were introduced in order to minimise anti-Catholic violence.[54]

In 1923, the Church of Scotland produced a (since repudiated) report, entitled The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality, accusing the largely immigrant Catholic population of subverting Presbyterian values and of spreading drunkenness, crime, and financial imprudence. Rev. John White, one of the senior leadership of the Church of Scotland at the time, called for a "racially pure" Scotland, declaring "Today there is a movement throughout the world towards the rejection of non-native constituents and the crystallization of national life from native elements."[55]

Such officially hostile attitudes started to wane considerably from the 1930s and 1940s onwards, especially as the leadership of the Church of Scotland learned of what was happening in eugenics-conscious Nazi Germany and of the dangers of creating a "racially pure" national church; particularly as German people who were of even partially Slavic or Jewish ancestry were not considered "true" members of the Volk.[56][57]

Social change and communal divisions[edit]

In 1986, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland expressly repudiated the sections of the Westminster Confession directly attacking the Catholic Church.[58] In 1990, both the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church were founding members of the ecumenical bodies Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Action of Churches Together in Scotland; relations between denominational leaders are now very cordial. Unlike the relationship between the hierarchies of the different churches, however, some communal tensions remain.

The association between football and displays of sectarian behaviour by some fans has been a source of embarrassment and concern to the management of certain clubs. The bitter rivalry between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, known as the Old Firm, is known worldwide for its sectarian dimension. Celtic was founded by Irish Catholic immigrants and Rangers has traditionally been supported by Unionists and Protestants. Sectarian tensions can still be very real, though perhaps diminished compared with past decades. Perhaps the greatest psychological breakthrough was when Rangers signed Mo Johnston (a Catholic) in 1989. Celtic, on the other hand, have never had a policy of not signing players due to their religion, and some of the club's greatest figures have been Protestants.[59][60]

From the 1980s the UK government passed several acts that had provisions concerning sectarian violence. These included the Public Order Act 1986, which introduced offences relating to the incitement of racial hatred, and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced offences of pursuing a racially aggravated course of conduct that amounts to harassment of a person. The 1998 Act also required courts to take into account where offences are racially motivated, when determining sentence. In the twenty-first century the Scottish Parliament legislated against sectarianism. This included provision for religiously aggravated offences in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 strengthened statutory aggravations for both racially and religiously motivated hate crimes. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, criminalised behaviour which is threatening, hateful, or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting. It also criminalised the communication of threats of serious violence and threats intended to incite religious hatred.[61]

57% of the Catholic community belong to the manual working-class.[62] Though structural disadvantage had largely eroded by the 1980s, Scottish Catholics are more likely to experience poverty and deprivation than their Protestant counterparts.[63] Many more Catholics can now be found in what were called the professions, with some occupying posts in the judiciary or in national politics. In 1999, the Rt Hon John Reid MP became the first Catholic to hold the office of Secretary of State for Scotland. His succession by the Rt Hon Helen Liddell MP in 2001 attracted considerably more media comment that she was the first woman to hold the post than that she was the second Catholic. Also notable was the appointment of Louise Richardson to the University of St. Andrews as its principal and vice-chancellor. St Andrews is the third oldest university in the Anglosphere. Richardson, a Catholic, was born in Ireland and is a naturalised United States citizen. She is the first woman to hold that office and first Catholic to hold it since the Scottish Reformation.[64]

The Catholic Church recognises the separate identities of Scotland and England and Wales. The church in Scotland is governed by its own hierarchy and bishops' conference, not under the control of English bishops. In more recent years, for example, there have been times when it was especially the Scottish bishops who took the floor in the United Kingdom to argue for Catholic social and moral teaching. The presidents of the bishops' conferences of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland meet formally to discuss "mutual concerns", though they are separate national entities. "Closer cooperation between the presidents can only help the Church's work", a spokesman noted.[65]

Scottish Catholics strongly supported the Labour Party in the past, and Labour politicians openly courted Catholic voters and accused their opponents such as the Scottish National Party of opposing the existence of Catholic schools. Scottish Catholics increasingly started identifying with Scottish nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s, and switched to the SNP as their preferred party.[63] Scottish Catholics also emerged as a staunchly pro-independence group – according to a 2020 poll, 70% of Scottish Catholics supported Scottish independence.[63] In 2013, Scottish sociologist Michael Rosie noted that "Catholics were actually the religious sub-group most likely to support an independent Scotland in 1999. This remains true in 2012."[66] Scottish Catholics are also more likely to be in favour of Scottish independence and to support SNP than non-religious voters.[66]


Map of Catholic dioceses in Scotland

There are four entities that encompass Scotland, England, and Wales.

There are two Catholic archdioceses and six dioceses in Scotland; total membership is 841,000:[67]

Diocese Province Approximate Territory Cathedral Creation Membership
01Diocese of Aberdeen
Bishop of Aberdeen
05Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Aberdeen, Moray, Highland (except southern Inverness-shire, Skye and the islands), The Orkney Islands, The Shetland Islands Cathedral Church of St Mary of the Assumption 021878 51,000 (2022)[68]
02Diocese of Argyll and the Isles
Bishop of Argyll and the Isles
06Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Argyll and Bute, southern Inverness-shire, Arran, The Hebrides Islands Cathedral Church of St Columba 031878 11,108 (2020)[69]
03Diocese of Dunkeld
Bishop of Dunkeld
07Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Dundee, Forfarshire, Perthshire and northern Fife Cathedral Church of St Andrew 031878 63,260 (2021)[70]
04Diocese of Galloway
Bishop of Galloway
08Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Ayrshire (except Arran), Dumfries and Galloway Cathedral Church of St Margaret 041878 41,350 (2021)[71]
05Archdiocese of Glasgow
Archbishop of Glasgow
01Glasgow Glasgow and Dunbartonshire Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St Andrew 061878 218,170 (2021)[72]
06Diocese of Motherwell
Bishop of Motherwell
02Glasgow Lanarkshire Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Good Aid 071947
(from Archdiocese of Glasgow and Diocese of Galloway)
163,000 (2021)[73]
07Diocese of Paisley
Bishop of Paisley
03Glasgow Renfrewshire Cathedral Church of Saint Mirin 081947
(from Archdiocese of Glasgow)
87,940 (2021)[74]
08Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh
Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh
04Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Saint Andrews, most of Fife, Kinross-shire, Clackmannanshire, Stirlingshire, West Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, Scottish Borders Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption 011878 122,280 (2020)[75]
23Eparchy of the Holy Family of London
Bishop Hlib Lonchyna
23Kiev–Galicia Great Britain Cathedral Church of the Holy Family in Exile 191968
(elevated to Eparchy 2013)
13,000 (2021)
24Bishopric of the Forces
Bishop Richard Moth
24Holy See HM Forces both in Britain and abroad Cathedral Church of St Michael and St George 231986
25Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
Monsignor Keith Newton
25Holy See Former Anglican clergy, religious and laity resident in England, Wales and Scotland. Principal Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory 252011 1,950 (2021)
25Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Great Britain
Bishop Joseph Srampickal
25Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam–Angamaly The Syro-Malabar Church in England, Wales and Scotland. Syro-Malabar Cathedral of St Alphonsa, Preston 252016 41,000 (2021)

The Bishopric of the Forces and the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham are directly subject to the Holy See. The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Great Britain was subject to their own metropolitans, major archbishops, and major archiepiscopal synods.

21st century[edit]

Percentage claiming to be Catholic in the 2011 UK Census in Scotland

Between 1982 and 2010, the proportion of Scottish Catholics dropped 18%, baptisms dropped 39%, and Catholic church marriages dropped 63%. The number of priests also dropped.[76] Between the 2001 UK Census and the 2011 UK Census, the proportion of Catholics remained steady while that of other Christians denominations, notably the Church of Scotland dropped.[77][78][79]

In 2001, Catholics were a minority in each of Scotland's 32 council areas but in a few parts of the country their numbers were close to those of the official Church of Scotland. The most Catholic part of the country is composed of the western Central Belt council areas near Glasgow. In Inverclyde, 38.3% of persons responding to the 2001 UK Census reported themselves to be Catholic compared to 40.9% as adherents of the Church of Scotland. North Lanarkshire also already had a large Catholic minority at 36.8% compared to 40.0% in the Church of Scotland. Following in order were West Dunbartonshire (35.8%), Glasgow City (31.7%), Renfrewshire (24.6%), East Dunbartonshire (23.6%), South Lanarkshire (23.6%) and East Renfrewshire (21.7%).

In 2011, Catholics outnumbered adherents of the Church of Scotland in several council areas, including North Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, and the most populous one: Glasgow City.[80]

Between the two censuses, numbers in Glasgow with no religion rose significantly while those noting their affiliation to the Church of Scotland dropped significantly so that the latter fell below those that identified with an affiliation to the Catholic Church.[81]

At a smaller geographic scale, one finds that the two most Catholic parts of Scotland are: (1) the southernmost islands of the Western Isles, especially Barra and South Uist, populated by Gaelic-speaking Scots of long-standing; and (2) the eastern suburbs of Glasgow, especially around Coatbridge, populated mostly by the descendants of Irish Catholic immigrants.[82]

According to the 2011 UK Census, Catholics comprise 16% of the overall population, making it the second-largest church after the Church of Scotland (32%).[83]

Along ethnic or racial lines, Scottish Catholicism was in the past, and has remained at present, predominantly White or light-skinned in membership, as have always been other branches of Christianity in Scotland. Among respondents in the 2011 UK Census who identified as Catholic, 81% are White Scots, 17% are Other White (mostly other British or Irish), 1% is either Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British, and an additional 1% is either mixed-race or from multiple ethnicities; African; Caribbean or black; or from other ethnic groups.[84]

In recent years the Catholic Church in Scotland has experienced negative publicity in the mainstream media due to statements made by bishops in defence of traditional Christian morality and in criticism of secular and liberal ideology. Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell, came under fire after alleging that the "gay lobby" were mounting "a giant conspiracy" to completely destroy Christianity.[85] Criticism was also levelled at perceived intransigence on joint faith schools and threats to withdraw acquiescence unless guarantees of separate genders having different staff rooms, toilets, gyms, visitor, and pupil entrances were not met.[86]

In 2003, a Catholic church spokesman branded sex education as "pornography" and now disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien claimed plans to teach sex education in pre-schools amounted to "state-sponsored sexual abuse of minors."[87]

There has also been even worse publicity related to the sexual abuse of minors. In 2016, a headteacher and teacher of the St Ninian's Orphanage, Falkland, Fife were sentenced for abuse at the orphanage from 1979 to 1983 when it was run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Fr John Farrell the last headteacher there was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Paul Kelly, a teacher, was sentenced to ten years. More than 100 charges involving 35 boys were made regarding the orphanage, which had been closed down in 1983.[88] In 2019, it emerged that the Superior General of the Christian Brothers, approved the placement of Farrell at St Ninian's despite previous reports of interfering with boys at a South African boarding school where it was recommended by the African provincial that Farrell should never be placed in a boarding school in the future.[89]

Roughly half of Catholic parishes in the West of Scotland were closed or merged because of a priest shortage and over half have closed in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.[90][91]

In early 2013, Scotland's most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him and partially admitted.[92] Subsequently, allegations were made that several other cases of alleged sexual misconduct took place involving other priests.[93]

Marian grotto and Christian pilgrimage shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Highlands on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Church at Stratherrick, near Whitebridge, Inverness-shire.

At the Christian pilgrimage shrine to 'Our Lady of the Highlands', within the grounds of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church near the village of Whitebridge (Scottish Gaelic: An Drochaid Bhàn) and to Loch Ness, a new outdoor Mass stone was consecrated by Bishop Hugh Gilbert of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aberdeen in March 2017.[94]

In a 2021 article published in The Lamp, University of Glasgow student and essayist Jamie McGowan credited "The Outlander Effect", rooted in the enormous popularity of Diana Gabaldon's series of romance novels and the television adaptation of them, with making Roman Catholicism, not only socially acceptable, but even into a fashionable element of Scottish national identity and cultural nationalism.[95]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Scotland's Census 2011 – Table KS209SCb"
  2. ^ Michael Martin, "Sae let the Lord be thankit," The Tablet, 27 June 2009, 20.
  3. ^ Archdiocese of Edinburgh Archived 6 August 2018 at the Wayback Machine www.archdiocese-edinburgh.com. Retrieved 21 February 2009
  4. ^ "Immigration and Emigration – Scotland – Strathclyde – Lithuanians in Lanarkshire". BBC. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  5. ^ Andrew Collier "Scotland's confident Catholics" Tablet 10 January 2009, pg. 16
  6. ^ "Census reveals huge rise in number of non-religious Scots (From Herald Scotland)". Heraldscotland.com. 27 September 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  7. ^ Tad Turski (1 February 2011). "Statistics". Dioceseofaberdeen.org. Archived from the original on 29 November 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  8. ^ "How many Catholics are there in Britain?". BBC News. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  9. ^ B. Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts (Oxford, 1997), ISBN 0-14-025422-6, p. 184.
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