Scotland "inextricably linked" to its Christian heritage says Cardinal.  

In a speech to be delivered this evening at the "Holyrood Dialogues" debate in Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O'Brien will address the question: 'Scotland: Christian or Secular'.  

In his speech, the Cardinal will say;  

"in the year 397 the arrival (of St. Ninian) saw the beginning of Scotland s immersion in a ˜Sea of Faith . This tide of Christian faith which washed over our land has ebbed and flowed ever since but has never completely receded."  

In arguing that Christian influence remains strong in Scotland, Cardinal O'Brien refers to;  

"the increasing influence of the Christian churches in our parliamentary process here in Scotland (and the) increasingly important role of the Christian churches in society, reflected in their engagement in Parliament and with the Executive."  

He adds:  

"there is an increasing influence by Christians in society in general. Christians are more and more aware of just where they stand on certain issues and they do not wish standards to continue to deteriorate."  

Cardinal O'Brien points to increasingly visible signs of Christianity in society;  

"I think of the Christmas Nativity Scene at the corner of the Mound in Edinburgh each year; I think of that most wonderful performance of the Easter Play on the afternoon of Holy Saturday prior to Easter Sunday; I am aware of performances of the equivalent of passion plays such as Christ at Dundas ."  

Cardinal O'Brien concludes with a reminder of how sizeable a group Christian churchgoers still are:  

"despite talk of decline we do perhaps need to remember that according to the last National Census around two thirds of Scots still describe themselves as Christians. Churchgoers today are self-selecting, they opt to go to church in a society where no one expects that they should. We do well to remember the numbers still involved. On an average week in Scotland, 600,000 Christians go to church, compared with 300,000 who go to the cinema and around 100,000 who go to a football match. Curiously no one is predicting the imminent death of football or cinema going in this country! Yet many, wrongly suggest the Christian faith faces imminent extinction."  


Peter Kearney  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168  


The full text of cardinal O'Brien's speech is shown below.  

'Holyrood Dialogues' are organised by "Christians in Responsibility" a group of business and professionals from various church backgrounds, they take place several times a year. They aim to provide an opportunity for individuals to meet and discuss important issues. Specifically encouraging Christians and others in dialogue which relates faith to the pressing problems of society and to consider social issues from a Christian perspective.  

For more information about " Christians in Responsibility" contact Jennifer Floether on 0131 657 9571  






It is indeed a pleasure for me being here with you this evening leading Holyrood Dialogues on this occasion. I do understand that this is not a debate “ rather dinner and discussion . I hope that what I say will lead to a considerable number of open questions along with discussion around the dinner tables.  

I chose my title: Scotland: Christian or Secular some months ago. If I had known that in the meantime I would be the only man in Scotland living at this present time to have taken part in a Papal Conclave “ I might have been tempted to change the subject of my talk and rather spoken about perhaps: Insights into a Conclave!  


I do not think anyone would doubt that Scotland was a Christian country. In a letter written in 1994 the late Pope John Paul II started to prepare Christians throughout the world for the great jubilee of the Year 2000. In that letter he wrote: In preparing for the Year 2000, the individual Churches have their own role to play, as they celebrate with their own jubilees significant stages in the salvation history of the various peoples . Here in Scotland we had many and varied jubilees to celebrate: We have recently celebrated the 900th anniversary of the death of the Saintly Margaret Queen and Patroness of Scotland; In 1997 we celebrated the 1600th anniversary of the arrival of St Ninian on the shores of Whithorn and in that same year we celebrated the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Columba on Iona; Then just a few years ago we also celebrated the 1400th anniversary of St Mungo of Glasgow.  

At the beginning of the third millennium we were taken back to our Christian roots and again quoting the words of John Paul II: The whole of Christian history appears to us as a single river into which many tributaries pour their waters. The Year 2000 invite us to gather with renewed fidelity and ever deeper communion along the banks of this great river: The River of Revelation, of Christianity and of the Church, a river which flows through human history starting from the event which took place at Nazareth and then at Bethlehem 2000 years ago .  

The 1400th anniversary of St. Ninian, celebrates the fact that in 397 his arrival on our shores saw the beginning of Scotland s immersion in a ˜Sea of Faith . This tide of Christian faith which washed over our land has ebbed and flowed ever since but has never completely receded. The history of Scotland is inextricably linked with the history of Christianity in this land.  

Just last weekend I was celebrating the 150th anniversary of one of our parishes in the Lothians dedicated to St David I, King of Scotland, son of our Saintly Queen Margaret whom I have already mentioned. David has been described as perhaps the greatest King that Scotland has ever known. His mother before him had done much; David was to do even more building on the foundations which she had undoubtedly laid. He saw that the whole future of his country lay in its being a truly Christian state, where God s name would be held in honour throughout the length and breadth of the land. He re-established the ancient Diocese of Glasgow, arranged for five new dioceses, had them all divided into deaneries and parishes. He founded monasteries and abbeys realizing the great benefits such foundations would bring, not only for the spiritual life of the country, but also for its temporal prosperity.  

As we look back on those ancient days we see the tremendous danger which faced the Church at that time, the danger of the Church being bound up too completely with its temporal prosperity. There followed the dramatic events of the Reformation, which sadly, led to the destruction of most of the elements of the Christian Church of the early evangelists and those later holy people who spread the Christian faith.  

While there are many, myself among them, who believe that the Reformation went too far, it must always be remembered that the Reformation was a Christian Reformation “ not a Secular Reformation and gradually as well as the Churches of the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church again grew from those areas where it had not been completely destroyed and also grew because of many immigrants coming into this country. The Catholic Church grew so much that in 1875 there was that restoration of the ancient Roman Catholic Hierarchy “ existing alongside the Hierarchy of the Episcopal Church of Scotland down to the present time.  


The question facing us this evening in our Dialogue is Scotland still a Christian Country or is it a secular society? (or perhaps even both! A Christian heart occasionally overruling a secular head “ or vice versa!)  

It is important that we are aware of the increasing number of those who do not profess the Christian Faith or who are quite simply nominally Christians.  

Just a generation or two ago it was the norm that each and every child being born would shortly after birth be taken to be baptised into one or other of the Christian Churches. For Catholics baptism followed a few days after birth; for those who were of the reformed faiths perhaps some days or even weeks later “ but baptism was the norm. One might say quite simply that does not happen now “ baptism is often regarded as an irrelevance in the lives of many of our citizens.  

Further with regard to Church attendance again there has been a steady decline in the numbers attending churches regularly Sunday by Sunday “ even in Catholic parishes. There has been a tremendous change socially in the ways in which we live and we might say that we have indeed lost out to secular society. On a Sunday places of work, places of recreation and shopping precincts do as much business as on any weekday if perhaps not more. It is the large superstores which have become the cathedrals at the beginning of this third millennium.  

Further, we cannot in any way say that Christian practices and laws are always observed at this present time. It is indeed true to say that more people are living together rather than asking the Church s blessing in the sacrament of matrimony. It is equally true to say that the laws of God and the laws of the Christian churches are not observed with regard to a variety of practices “ including abortion and perhaps soon euthanasia, including the promulgation of laws regarding same sex marriages and so on. We are aware of the increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies “ with young people unable to cope with the secular pressures around them.  

Strong words have been spoken by many Church Leaders about the present secular society. When addressing the Scottish Bishops on a visit to the Vatican in the year 2003 Pope John Paul II spoke of new and demanding situations which represent pastoral challenges for the Church today and he went on to add: In fact, we may observe in Scotland as in many lands evangelised centuries ago and steeped in Christianity, there no longer exists the reality of a Christian society , that is, a society which, despite human weaknesses and failings, takes the Gospel as the explicit measure of its life and values. Rather, modern civilization, although highly developed from the standpoint of technology, is often stunted in its inner depths by a tendency to exclude God or keep him at a distance .  

I myself on my own appointment as Cardinal later in 2003 set as my goals for the future the re-Christianization of Scotland; and an increased awareness of the values of marriage and of family life. In a similar way when recently elected Pope Benedict XV1 stated that he had taken the name Benedict quite simply because he wanted to be a man of peace like his predecessor of that name; St Benedict was the Patron Saint of Europe and he wanted to place Christ at the centre of Europe; and like Abbott Benedict he wanted to ensure that nothing whatever took the place of Christ in our lives.  

In giving these quotations I am surely indicating that there is an increased awareness in Church leaders throughout the world and here in Scotland of all denominations of a drastic change which has taken place in recent years. As the Pope says here in Scotland there no longer exists the reality of a Christian society .  


Despite accepting those words, despite an increasing awareness that Scotland is perhaps a more secular society than ever before and indeed perhaps even more secular than Christian I would maintain that Christian values do indeed still underpin so much of our national life.  

I would give four simple examples to back up what I am saying:  

1. Most people realise that they are missing something in not having Christian values. I have often found that there is a certain sadness being experienced by those whose ways of life do not in anyway conform to Christian standards. I am thinking particularly of people whose lives are sunk in the abuse of drink, drugs or sex. So many of them long for something different and realise that their lifestyles are not just what they should be. How many have heard the phrase: Oh, I wish I had the strong faith you had! .  

2. I think of the increasing influence of the Christian churches in our parliamentary process here in Scotland at this present time. There is I think an increasingly important role of the Christian churches in society and that is reflected in their engagement in Parliament and with the Executive.  

The Church is currently engaged with public policy debate in a variety of ways: there are currently four Parliamentary Officers representing Churches and Christian Groups; Christian denominations and individuals make direct contact with ministers, civil servants and MSPs as well as submitting consultation responses; There is a Core Liaison Group established on the initiative of the Executive to facilitate Churches engaging with Executive policy making; The Scottish Churches Committee including representation of several denominations dealing with matters affecting the material interests of the Churches rather than issues of wider social concern; There is the Scottish Churches social inclusion network bringing together a wide range of representatives of the Churches work on poverty, homelessness, debt, asylum, racial justice and similar issues for the purposes of ongoing dialogue with Parliament and Executive; And there is an annual Church Leaders meeting with the First Minister “ a long standing practice which has been evolving in the new devolved context.  

Consequently I would state that the influence of the Christian Churches in our parliamentary processes are stronger than ever before. And I would further state that the links uniting our Churches are indeed in a similar state “ stronger than ever before. One has only to think of ACTS “ Action of Churches Together in Scotland; and equivalent bodies at local level including our Edinburgh Churches Together which in turn tries to support initiatives at even smaller local areas.  

Some years ago the Scottish Executive gave annually £20,000 to Scottish Marriage Care; now the sum is in the region of £200,000 annually. Similar sums are given to other agencies promoting Christian standards.  

3. And I would think that there is an increasing influence by Christians in society in general. Christians are more and more aware of just where they stand on certain issues and they do not wish standards to continue to deteriorate.  

I think of the Edinburgh of my youth and the Edinburgh today “ and the visible signs of Christianity in our country, in our cities. I think of the Christmas Nativity Scene at the corner of the Mound in Edinburgh each year; I think of that most wonderful performance of the Easter Play on the afternoon of Holy Saturday prior to Easter Sunday; I am aware of performances of the equivalent of passion plays such as Christ at Dundas .  

I realise that many people do not want their children to go down a spiralling pattern of bad behaviour leading to all sorts of difficulties in their lives at present and into the future. They are indeed looking to Churches to give a lead with regard to morality.  

I myself recently spoke at a gathering of the Catholic Head Teachers Association of Scotland. This was reported in the Scotsman a few days later with the heading being: An alternative Catholic Vision of Teaching . I did not set out to be controversial but I held up an ideal to Catholic head teachers and indeed to all teachers with regard to Catholic Christian witness in their schools. I asked them to be leaders with an authentic witness to their faith; to be completely up-to-date with a knowledge of their faith; to be confident that their overall school community takes seriously its mission to be at the heart of the Church; I asked them to consider how the values of the Gospel are understood, taught and lived in their school communities; and I asked them to consider seriously current developments in the sexual health agenda to see that Christian standards were being observed.  

4. Lastly, despite talk of decline we do perhaps need to remember that according to the last National Census around two thirds of Scots still describe themselves as Christians. Likewise decline in church attendance is much debated yet rarely set in the proper context of huge disruption and changes in social patterns in recent decades. True, fewer Scottish Christians worship regularly than was the case forty or fifty years ago, but then there is no longer any social pressure on them to do so. 24 hour shopping, satellite television, liberalised licensing laws and the many other blandishments of our consumer society offer numerous alternatives and distractions, which an earlier church going generation did not have to resist.  

Churchgoers today are self-selecting, they opt to go to church in a society where no one expects that they should. We do well to remember the numbers still involved. On an average week in Scotland, 600,000 Christians go to church, compared with 300,000 who go to the cinema and around 100,000 who go to a football match. Curiously no one is predicting the imminent death of football or cinema going in this country! Yet many, wrongly suggest the Christian faith faces imminent extinction.  


On thinking back over what I have said I have indicated that Scotland was indeed a strong Christian country for many centuries; I have accepted that secularism has increased in many and varied ways over the past few decades to such an extent that the Christian influence is in no way as strong as it once was; but I have also emphasised that those whom we might describe as many of our ordinary people realise that they and their children are missing something in not having Christian values and consequently they are looking for something better and that something better is very often the Christian standards and values of old.  

Further, I have emphasised the increasing influence of our Christian Churches with one another and within society particularly at the level of our own Scottish Parliament. And I have also stated something of the ways in which a desire for Christianity and the signs of Christianity as well as those basic Christian values are increasingly seen in our society.  

Scotland “ Christian or secular “ an intriguing question? I leave it to you to continue the discussion and now open myself to questions. I hope I have given you something to think about “ and I am sure that in your questioning you will leave me with something further to think about.  

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| 30th January 2020 | Blogging

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| 17th December 2019 | Blogging

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