Prominent Scottish Catholics have signed a petition to the Parliament at Holyrood demanding an investigation into new statistics revealing deep discrimination against Catholics in Scotland.
The petition, signed by leading Catholic clergymen, calls on ministers to deliver on a five-year-old promise to find out why Catholics suffer more deprivation and imprisonment than any other section of the community.
Census data shows 19% of Scotland’s Catholics live in the most deprived 10% of housing areas, compared with 14% of Muslims and 8% of Church of Scotland members.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who has made a number of outspoken interventions in recent weeks claiming that Catholics are more often the victims of bigotry than the perpetrators, is “watching with interest” how the matter is dealt with.
It also shows that 64% of Catholics live in the poorest 50% of housing areas, compared with 53% of Muslims and 46% of Church of Scotland members. According to the data, 7% of Catholics make it into the most desirable 10% of housing, compared with 11% of Church of Scotland members, 12% of Muslims and 43% of the Jewish community.
The Scottish Prison Service has also revealed statistics showing that in 2004 Catholics made up 26% of the prison population but only 13% of the general population.
O’Brien has been more forthright than ever in recent weeks on his belief that Catholics in Scotland suffer prejudice in some walks of life.
Other statistics released last month showed that Catholics had been the victims in 64% of cases brought for sectarian abuse and violence, while the far larger Church of Scotland population had been victims in just 31% of cases.
He said that for some Scots, going out and “punching a Pape (sic)” had become a pastime.
The Cardinal’s spokesman said: “It is a matter of some concern that Catholics are disproportionately represented in Scotland’s prison population and are more likely to occupy the poorest-quality housing. Wider research on these phenomena would be very helpful in attempting to ascertain what, if any, social trends underpin such disadvantage.”
Composer James MacMillan provoked a row some years ago when he said Scotland was “sleepwalking” in its bigotry and called on Scottish First Minister Jock McConnell to act.
He said: “The Executive talks about sectarian problems in Scotland, but in suspiciously vague ways.
“It seems that McConnell and others have been forced into a position on this issue where they have to be seen to be acting. However, the true nature of sectarianism here terrifies them and they are afraid to call a spade a spade on this matter.
“As recent statistics and empirical data have shown, Catholics are disproportionately at the receiving end of bigotry and prejudice. Blatant anti-Catholicism is the elephant in the room that the Executive, and even some anti-sectarian campaigners, are refusing to acknowledge.
“As long as these glaringly obvious specifics are not tackled head-on, Mr McConnell will achieve nothing in his campaign.”