The Catholic Church has led angry condemnation of a decision by Scottish prosecutors to caution a Polish footballer who blessed himself during a Glasgow soccer match.
Celtic’s goalkeeper Artur Boruc was cautioned for “a breach of the peace” after he made the sign of the cross prior to the second half of a match in February versus traditional rivals, Glasgow Rangers.
Celtic is traditionally associated with the Irish/Catholic tradition, while Rangers is associated with the Planter/Protestant tradition. Rivalry among supporters is often sectarian in nature.
Local authorities claimed their action was intended to crack down on what they claimed was a “sectarian gesture” by the player. It was also revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service had come close to charging Boruc as a criminal.
Politicians north of the border also reacted with disbelief, while Celtic Football Club announced it would meet Strathclyde Police and supporters’ representatives to discuss the matter.
Catholic Church spokesman Peter Kearney said: “It’s a worrying and alarming development, especially since the sign of the cross is globally accepted as a gesture of religious reverence.
“It’s also very common in international football and was commonplace throughout the World Cup.
“It is extremely regrettable that Scotland seems to have made itself one of the few countries in the world where this simply religious gesture is considered an offence.”
Nationalist leader Alex Salmond said he would be “demanding an explanation” about the Procurator Fiscal’s decision.
He said: “It is ludicrous - if they had taken this to court then it would have been laughed out.”
Livingston MP Jim Devine also condemned the decision to caution Boruc, saying it would make Scotland “the laughing stock of the world”.
The Labour politician, a lifelong Celtic supporter, said the goalkeeper went through a ritual, including blessing himself, at the beginning of each game and again before the start of the second half.
Footballers in “virtually every stadium in the world” did the same thing, he added.
Mr Devine said: “I find it sad that some people in the 21st century find this offensive and feel the need to make a complaint to police about it.
“Surely the police and Crown Office could be spending their time more effectively than responding to a complaint about a ritual that takes place on a routine basis in just about every football match.
“I will be writing to the Crown Office for a full explanation of their decision as this could end up happening every week.”
The Crown Office said its decision had been based on an “assessment of behaviour”.
In January 1998, Paul Gascoigne was not cautioned after a controversial “playing the flute” mime - mimicking the behaviour of triumphalist Protestant band parades in the North of Ireland - in an Old Firm game against Celtic. It was the second time he had made the gesture.