[Possibly a bishop in 1920s Italy could have said, “I am inviting Il Duce to tell us how he made the trains run on time,” or a bishop in 1930s Germany, “I am inviting Der Fuhrer to tell us how he got us out of the Depression,” or a “Patriotic” bishop in 1960s China, “I am inviting Chairman Mao to tell us about his Great Leap Forward program”! – AQ moderator Tom]

19 January 2018 | by Ruth Gledhill

Bishop of Paisley the decision to invite the First Minister of Scotland, to deliver Cardinal Winning Lecture

A Catholic bishop in Scotland has defended the decision to invite Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, to deliver the 2018 Cardinal Winning Lecture.

The lecture, on Saturday 3 March, will mark the Centenary of the Catholic Education Scotland Act 1918 and the partnership between the Catholic Church and the State in Scotland in the provision of education to the young.

Replying to comments on his Facebook page, Bishop of Paisley John Keenan says it is not the Catholic Church in Scotland that has invited the First Minister, but the University of Glasgow.

He says he understands the “real pro-life anxiety” around it, given Sturgeon’s agreement to facilitate Scottish abortions for northern Irish women, following on from the decision of the UK Conservative government to set up a proxy abortion service for Irish women.

Bishop Keenan challenged this at the time, considering it to be both immoral in itself and an “awful and unwarranted political meddling” of the Scottish and UK governments in the legitimate autonomy of a devolved region of the UK.

But he continues: “However, I support this invitation and think it quite appropriate, in the year that marks the centenary of the Education Scotland Act and the long, fruitful partnership between the Church and the State in the provision of Catholic education for our citizens, that a current First Minister of State of Scotland be invited to make this address in some tribute to the enormous contribution Catholics have made to Scottish society over the century, and continue to make even today.

“As such, it is an invitation to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in office, more than to Nicola Sturgeon as a politician.

“Perhaps it can also be the occasion of honest dialogue as to how much just freedom our Catholic schools are presently afforded by the State simply to be Catholic and to propose and promote our particular Christian vision of the human person, without undue political pressure to conform to an aggressively secular anthropology currently in vogue, that often threatens to undermine our own Gospel truths.”

He adds one plea: “That frank and honest debate always be, from our side, carried out in civility, good faith and charity so that, even in the way we make our points, our Catholic approach to the human person might find itself better understood, respected and appreciated by civic society today and in the century to come.”

Ronnie Convery, who was director of communications for Cardinal Winning, who died in June 2001, also comments: “The Bishop is right. The presumably supportive message the First Minister will deliver about the contribution of Catholic schools to national life will be very welcome. Remember that there are still many who would seek to abolish state-funded Catholic schools in this country (perhaps even the majority of our fellow citizens) and so to have the support of the First Minister is hugely significant.

“Her message will be about education not abortion. The Church cannot simply refuse to engage with those who disagree with her position on abortion.

“Pope Francis has been crystal clear on this and has given clear examples of engagement with those in the political, medical and academic worlds who may have diverse views on abortion or marriage or any other area of Church teaching.”

He notes that during his visit this week to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis visited President Bachelet who legalised abortion in Chile just months ago. “But it would be absurd to suggest that visit signals approval for abortion,” Convery added. “Vatican II was clear that the Church must engage with the world. Catholic schools are a privileged place of engagement and it is right that their success be celebrated by Church and state alike.”

A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “We welcome the decision by the University of Glasgow to mark the centenary of state support for Catholic education, by inviting the First Minister to deliver the 2018 Cardinal Winning Lecture.”
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