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Ecumenical and interfaith dialogue in Scotland

· Interview with Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien prior to the Bishops' ‘ad Limina’ visit ·

Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, granted L'Osservatore Romano 's Nicola Gori the following interview in the lead-up to the Scottish Bishops' ad Limina visit to Rome. We publish the full transcript below.


How is Scotland preparing to receive the Pope in the coming year? What is the reason for his Visit?

The Pope is coming to Great Britain as the result of a request from the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown, to Pope Benedict XVI. Consequently, this will be a formal Visit at the request of Her Majesty the Queen and the Government, rather than a purely pastoral Visit, as was the Visit of Pope John Paul ii in 1982.

No definite dates for the Visit have, as yet, been announced and, consequently, at the present time, it is rather difficult for any proper preparation to take place for the Visit itself. However, the Bishops of Scotland want to be sure that there will be a major pastoral dimension to the Visit of Pope Benedict XVI and will be preparing as soon as more information is received about the nature of the Visit and what pastoral events will be included.


What effects is the Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” creating? Are a certain number of Anglicans returning to the Catholic Church?

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus is not having a very great effect in Scotland as there are not many Anglicans in Scotland itself, nor indeed members of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is in full communion with the Anglican Church in England.

A small number (possibly fewer than 50) of a group known as “Forward in Faith Scotland” has approached me, as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, as to how they can be helped as a result of the Apostolic Constitution and asking for a suitable church/chapel in which they could have a regular celebration of Mass according to their own liturgy.


What are relations of the Catholic Church with the Church of Scotland today?

The Catholic Church has a very full and fruitful relationship with the National Church in Scotland, namely the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Invariably, a representative from the Catholic Church, usually a Bishop, represents the Catholic Church at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland each year and throughout the year there are invariably regular meetings between individual Bishops with successive Moderators of the General Assembly and representatives of the various committees of the Church of Scotland. In addition, ecumenical celebrations are arranged, particularly coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.


Has the Church in Scotland also been affected by abuse of children on the part of the clergy?

The Church in Scotland has been slightly affected by the abuse of children on the part of clergy – but not to the same extent as in some other countries. Invariably, cases being brought to the fore are “stale cases” referring to abuse which took place perhaps some decades ago.


Has integration with immigrants of other religions succeeded or failed? What is the Church in Scotland doing in this regard?

The integration of immigrants of other religions has, in most cases, been a success here in Scotland. There has been a history of immigration into Scotland over the years – perhaps mainly with people from Ireland and then Italy. Now most of the immigration seems to come from Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe, as well as India.

The Church in Scotland tries to help by seeing initially to the religious needs of the immigrants – in my own Archdiocese alone there are 10 priests from Poland helping with the immigration of Polish peoples; and there is a Syro-Malabar priest helping with the integration of people from India.


Has the presence of numerous Muslims in the territory encouraged dialogue with Islam?

There are a number of Muslims in Scotland, many having lived here for many years. Again, good relations occur between the Christian community in Scotland with members of the world's great faiths – leading to very grateful dialogue and membership of various joint committees.


How is the Church reacting to religious fanaticism that often leads to terrorism?

There is little of the “religious fanaticism that often leads to terrorism” evident in Scotland. With all people of goodwill in Scotland at this present time, the Church opposes such religious fanaticism and obviously also is strongly against any acts leading to terrorism.


Catholics in Scotland represent about 10% of the population. Are you also feeling the effects of secularization?

With Catholics in Scotland representing about 10% of the population, we do indeed feel the effects of secularisation. However, the voice of the Catholic Church in Scotland is often clearly heard, speaking against secularisation and the increasingly secular Bills which are passing through the Government, both here in Scotland and in Westminster.

The leadership of the Church in speaking out in this way is often fully approved by members of other Churches here in Scotland, which often look to the Catholic Church for leadership in these matters.


What interventions is the Church promoting in the face of the financial crisis that has hit the country?

The Church has indeed spoken out in the face of the financial crisis – reminding leaders in our communities of their special responsibilities and warning against the abuse of positions of trust.

Aware of the particular sufferings of those in lower incomes, both in Scotland itself, as well as in countries overseas, the Church has always spoken out about the needs of those who have little financial resources and the requirements on those who have “much” to consider those who have little.

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