Tag Archives: decline

Sermon – Change & Decay?

The newly retired Moderator of a fellow Scottish Presbyterian Church has an Internet blog, written in his capacity as a Parish Minister in his particular denomination.

He seems to spend virtually every post, criticising, condemning, and commentating negatively on the Kirk.

According to this narrow minded bigoted view, the Church of Scotland has become apostate, heretical, unbiblical – because of recent decisions made by our General Assembly and by words spoken by individual ministerial colleagues. He has actually gone as far as to suggest that the Kirk deserves to die – an appalling and unsavoury remark from a fellow Christian minister.

In the immortal words of Dad’s Army’s Private Fraser (John Lawrie – from just down the road in Dumfries), “We’re doomed. Doomed, I tell ye!”

Certainly, there is a lot happening within the Kirk that is causing strain and stress.

Take for example, the Assembly’s discussion and debate on the Overture regarding Ministers in Same Sex Marriage. Although that comparatively brief discussion was, on the whole, conducted in a civilised manner, before this, there has been so much bile, unpleasantness, and a downright lack of Christian charity.

Several ministers and some congregations have left the Kirk as a result.

Last Saturday, at the Assembly, 215 commissioners voted against the Overture. 339 voted “for”.

Division, disagreement, disruption

Over the years, numerically, we are in decline….. for many different reasons – such as members becoming older and sadly being no longer with us; of younger people who have no interest; of some long term members who – for whatever the reason – have just given up.

The way we were – St Mary’s Church, 1901


I was ordained in 1974. Then Kirk membership was about a million. 42 years on – it’s standing at around 370,000.

I remember sometime around 1990, a member of staff from the Church Offices came to address my then Presbytery – Lothian.

He talked about church decline by way of membership numbers, and mentioned that if the trend continued, Edinburgh (our neighbouring Presbytery) would have no members by 2029 – and would effectively disappear.

Friendly rivalry caused many of us there at that evening’s meeting to guffaw – though it was no laughing matter.

He paused for a moment, then said: “I don’t know why you’re laughing; YOUR Presbytery will disappear the year after – in 2030!”

But – let’s say this…..


  • The Church still stands.

Despite knock backs, despite setbacks, despite the downward trajectory we seem to be on – we’re still here….. we always will be.

Do you remember the story of Christ arriving in Heaven, and being asked how many folk he’d left to carry on, and he answers “Twelve”

“Twelve!” comes the incredulous reply, “Is that all?”

And he answers, “It’s enough”.

Things may not get as few as that here, but think of how the Church is actually growing – in Africa, Russia, China…… that’s more than enough!

I read yesterday that in 1900, there were 8 million Christians in Africa. Now there are 335 million. And the growth rate continues to accelerate.

For Christianity the 20th century was numerically the most successful century since Christ was crucified. By 2010, there were 2.2 billion Christians in the world, 31% of its population.


  • And we stand for something.

Societal patterns are changing, as are attitudes, and as is need.

What is Church? It’s a group or congregation. Very often interpreted as people coming together on – usually a Sunday – to sing hymns, listen to the Minister say prayers (as to actually praying themselves) and listening to a sermon for ten/fifteen minutes…. then going home for lunch.

That may be “being” Church…. but “doing” Church involves more, so much more.

Helping, feeding, caring for those in need should be the ‘why’ of what we, if we truly want to “do”, not the how or the what. Following Christ’s teaching demands that we share the essentials of life unconditionally.

This is integral not peripheral, the beginning and not a side-line or optional extra. Jesus’ unequivocally states that we encounter ultimate meaning when we treat others as we would wish to be treated, love others as we love ourselves and meet the needs of the vulnerable, excluded and marginalised.

This is the imperative which drives and shapes the Church and its existence as a servant community, taking us back to Christ’s theology as found in his Parable of the Kingdom in Matthew 25



  • And the Church doesn’t stand still

If you cast your mind back to the short address I gave near the beginning of today’s service – about the dog and the rabbit……

Let me – as it were – turn it around a bit…… and remind you of that wonderful poem written by Francis Thomson – The Hound of Heaven…..

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him…”

Thomson’s story is punctuated by sorrow, failure and addiction. The squalor and self-medication of his age come through in every chapter of his life, ultimately ending in his death at age 48. But Thompson’s real legacy is not the opium that consumed his body, but the paw prints of a Hound he says relentlessly pursued his soul.

Thompson knew that Hound as the God Who draws sinners to Himself even as they flee from His voice, a dauntless Hunter of hearts.


In the 1930’s Stalin ordered a purge of all Bibles and all believers. In Stavropol, Russia, this order was carried out with vengeance. Thousands of Bibles were confiscated, and multitudes of believers were sent to the gulags-prison camps-where most died, unjustly condemned as “enemies of the state.”

An American missionary team were many years later to discover that there was a warehouse outside of town where these confiscated Bibles had been stored since Stalin’s day.

They got permission to remove them, helped by several Russians .

One helper was a young man-a skeptical, hostile agnostic who had come only for the day’s wages. As they were loading Bibles, one team member noticed that the young man had disappeared. Eventually they found him in a corner of the warehouse, weeping.

He had slipped away hoping to take a Bible for himself. What he did not know was that he was being pursued by the “Hound of Heaven.” What he found shook him to the core.

The inside page of the Bible he picked up had the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. It had been her personal Bible. Out of the thousands of Bibles still left in that warehouse, he stole the very one belonging to his grandmother-a woman, who throughout her entire life, was persecuted for her faith.

the “Hound of Heaven” who had tracked him down to that very warehouse with devastating effect.

Jesus is truly the ever-present, all-seeing “Hound of Heaven.” He can still track us down wherever we’re hiding!

He called that young Russian man and how many more like him will he seek and find!

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Losing my Religion

from the BBC News website

More than half of people in Scotland now have no religion, according to research.
Findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey show 52% of people say they are not religious, compared with 40% in 1999 when the survey began.
The proportion who say they belong to the Church of Scotland has fallen from 35% in 1999 to just 20%.
Other religious groups, including Roman Catholic (15%) and other Christian (11%) have remained steady.
The number of non-Christians has remained at 2%.
The research, published by ScotCen Social Research, also reveals attendance at religious services is at the lowest level recorded since 1999
Two-thirds of people living in Scotland who say they are religious “never or practically never” attend services, compared with 49% when the survey began.
Ian Montagu, researcher at ScotCen, said: “Today’s findings show that Scottish commitment to religion, both in terms of our willingness to say we belong to a religion and to attend religious services, is in decline.
“However, this change doesn’t appear to be affecting all religions equally. Affiliation with the Church of Scotland is in decline while levels of identification with other religions remain relatively unchanged.
“As fewer Scots are acknowledging even a default religious identity, it is affiliation with the national church that is the hardest hit.”
The 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes survey interviewed a representative random probability sample of 1,288 people between July 2015 and January 2016.

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“Change and decay in all around I see”



Article in “The National” newspaper
Religion is losing influence on Scottish life … except in education
SCOTLAND is losing its religion in just about all areas of public life, according to a new report.

When it comes to marriage and moral issues the church is no longer the powerhouse it once was, but in education faith organisations remain strong and influential.

Academics at Glasgow University have carried out an audit of religion in Scots law, poring over legislation to find out exactly what rights the country’s different churches and religious communities have in 2016.

Commissioned by the Humanist Society of Scotland, the purpose of the report was to make sure law- makers and the public were fully aware of the role and the power of religious groups.

Gordon MacRae from the society said the “increased public and political awareness of the changing role of religion and belief in Scottish public life” had prompted the commission.

Key findings include that church ministers receive a 50 per cent reduction in council tax; religious communities where people live, such as monasteries or nunneries, do not need to pay the minimum wage; and blasphemy is still a crime in Scotland, though there have been no prosecutions for well over a century.

Professor Callum Brown, one of the report’s authors, said religion’s place in Scots law was “by and large now being eroded by human rights legislation from Europe, Westminster and Holyrood”, but in education its influence could still be felt. The 11 members of the General Teaching Council of Scotland are required to include one member from Church of Scotland and one from the Roman Catholic Church.

The report said there may also be schools in Scotland that are, in effect, “quasi-denominational schools.” After a Catholic school is discontinued and its pupils are sent to another, non-denominational building, provision is made for those pupils to receive religious instruction four times a week from a Catholic Church representative and one hour a week of religious observance.

Currently in Scotland there are 366 Catholic schools, three Episcopalian schools and one Jewish school. The Humanist Society say that given Scotland’s history and institutions had been shaped by religion over centuries, the report was necessary as the country discusses “where it’s going”.

MacRae said: “Many people in Scotland will be surprised by the quirks highlighted in this report, such as church ministers getting a 50 per cent discount on council tax, religious communities being exempt from the requirement to pay a minimum wage, and the fact that Scotland never quite got around to repealing the blasphemy law. But for us the most significant theme is a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education; where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.”


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losing my religion

Michael Gray: How can the Kirk bring itself back from the dead?
MAY 19TH, 2015 – 12:30 AM. The National newspaper
THE General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was once as close as it got to a Scottish parliament. As the assembly meets this week, times have certainly changed.

Relevance, it seems, is in short supply for organised religion. The national church – for all its significance to old, civic Scotland – is suffering a deep decline in membership and in ministers.

It’s a lack of youth that’s the problem. Believers pass on faster than the newly born can be converted. That trend doesn’t end well.

I remember my own ritual trips to local Kirks. My parents – less inclined to the CoS than their own – allowed our grandparents to give us a taste of faith.

I remember the awkward bonding sessions at “Sunday school”: the Bible stories and strangers frothing together in a strange faith-based experiment.

Then – after you were promoted – there were the cold, grey halls. Those five times my age huddled in dignified silence as words rained down from the lectern. The drone of the organ was followed by the congregation. At least they had music and biscuits.

The order, community and gentle sense of purpose was comforting to church regulars. For a young person, however, is was restrictive and all a bit stuffy. Can you really have authorised fun in the name of God?

It’s one of the reasons I doubt the church can avoid slipping slowly into terminal decline.

The assembly is attempting a “rebrand” to cross this generational divide. But the trends aren’t isolated to Scotland. Across Europe, we’re losing our religion.

Science has risen. Why seek knowledge from ancient, narrow scriptures, when vast digital encyclopaedias spring up by the gigabyte?

Authority has changed. Rampant individualism means – for better and worse – that we determine our own lives and priorities.

And Scotland is now a secular and multi-faith nation. Religion no longer has a Christian monopoly.

Change wasn’t within church control, yet it has now left organised religion looking less relevant to young people.

The church should be commended for its work on social justice, democracy and disarmament – but that doesn’t articulate a purpose for religion and scripture.

This change is not sudden. David Hume, famously, was a sceptic of religion. Karl Marx, father of communism, was even more scathing.

He described religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions … the opium of the people.”

The direction of modern Scotland suggests that in the face of change the old national church will struggle to stage its own resurrection.


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Survey says……


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May 16, 2015 · 10:10

“Change and Decay in All I See”

The Courier


‘Time for someone to say it’ — Minister warns lack of interest is killing the church

By RICHARD BURDGE, 27 February 2015 3.25pm. Updated: 28 February 2015 10:10am.

Rev Scott Burton decided it was time to speak out after facing more and more empty pews in his church.Shaun Ward
Churches face an “intolerable and utterly unsustainable” lack of interest from their congregations, according to a minister.

An outspoken and wide-ranging attack has been made on members who fail to attend for worship or offer financial support to their churches.

The Rev Scott Burton, minister at St Matthew’s Kirk in Perth, said: “I have no reason to believe anything other than the fact that it’s only going to get worse in the next decade.

“It’s time for someone to say it as it is I’m afraid — and I’m either brave enough or stupid enough to be the one who’s choosing to say it.

“I see the bank balance (deficits), I lead worship in the more than half-empty buildings, I feel the never-ending pressures, I counsel the office-bearers who are tearing their hair out to make ends meet. So I assure you, I’m not exaggerating.”

He hit out after studying the number of people attending churches in Perth but his comments resonated with congregation leaders across Tayside and Fife.

The Rev Michael Goss, Angus Presbytery Clerk, said: “The general perception is that attendance at services runs at about a third or a quarter of the congregational roll.

“The picture is a continuing downward trend, which has been the situation for a long time.”

The Rev James Wilson, the clerk of Dundee’s Presbytery, said:“Our membership is gradually getting fewer and older. We are slowly but surely struggling to find people to do additional tasks and take up positions of responsibility.

P“It is a problem for us in the Church of Scotland in Dundee certainly — a major problem — but it is not one that only the church is facing.”

Ministers in Fife confirmed numbers were dropping, with the Rev Jan Steyn, minister of Cupar St Johns and Dairsie United Parish Church, saying “generational change” was required to keep churches relevant.


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Change and Decay

from Huff Post

(RNS) For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.

“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”

Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.

Though some have said the 15.7 million-member denomination needs to be more racially and ethnically inclusive, Luter, its first African-American president, thinks the main reason for decline is that all congregations need to take a role in evangelism.

“We have just not been very active in doing what we can to reach the lost and the unchurched in our nation,” said the 57-year-old New Orleans pastor.

Weeks before the denomination’s annual meeting, a task force charged with helping Southern Baptists “own the problem” released a report that noted these recent signs of trouble:

one-quarter of Southern Baptist churches reported “0 baptisms”
60 percent said they had baptized no youth (ages 12-17)
80 percent reported one or fewer young adult baptisms (ages 18-29)
Task force member Dennis Kim is one of the three men who hope to succeed Luter as president.

“When about 1,000 churches close their doors every year, I believe that the need of the hour is an evangelistic tool that is simple enough to train all church members, effective enough to ignite believers’ passion for evangelism, and engaging enough to captivate the hearts of the present generation,” said Kim, 64, pastor of a predominantly Korean-American megachurch in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Md.

The Rev. Jared Moore, pastor of a small church in Hustonville, Ky., is not convinced that a special method or a new way of training is the answer.

“It’s not something that any president or any individual can reverse,” he said of the trends that show seven straight years of declining membership. “It’s something that God must bring about.”

He added that “it takes a lot more time, a lot more conversations than it did 50 years ago” to succeed in evangelism when some people don’t consider themselves sinners.

“I think we’ve got to stay the course, continue preaching the gospel, even when the ears of our community is closed,” said Moore.

The Rev. Ronnie Floyd, a former SBC Executive Committee chairman who is considered to be a front-runner for the presidency, said there’s a need for “extraordinary prayer” for another “major spiritual awakening” in America. He said Baptists have determined that the Great Commission — a phrase about the biblical command to convert believers across the world — is the path they are committed to follow.

“Our problem is the pace,” said Floyd, 58, pastor of a multisite megachurch in northwest Arkansas. “We need to return to a commitment of personal evangelism.”

David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said Southern Baptists are facing challenges, both theological — some people don’t see themselves in need of a conversion — and sociological — waning agreement with traditional conservative worldviews.

“It’s a tough world out there at this particular time and there’s not a lot of easy answers,” said Roozen, who said the Southern Baptists are joining mainline Protestants in the hand-wringing about declines. “There’s little fixes but they probably don’t address the root challenges.”

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Religion and Contemporary Britain. (from the Telegraph)

Overall religion recorded a net positive score of just four per cent in Western Europe – less than the global score of 37 per cent positivity, and 33 per cent recorded in Eastern Europe 
6:30AM BST 17 Apr 2014
The British are among the most sceptical in the world about religion, a global study has found.
Just over a third of people in the UK believe religion has a positive role to play in our daily lives, compared to a global average of 59 per cent.
More than a quarter of Britons said they believe religious belief actually has a negative impact, while in countries like America and Hong Kong very few held this opinion.
The UK follows a trend in Western Europe to be sceptical of the role of religion, which is believed to be due to a greater acceptance of and number of people having secular beliefs.
Overall religion recorded a net positive score of just four per cent in Western Europe – less than the global score of 37 per cent positivity, and 33 per cent recorded in Eastern Europe.
This net, or overall, score was calculated by subtracting the total percentage of people who said religion has a negative impact on their country from those who said it is a positive aspect in their lives.
Jean-Marc Leger, president of WIN/Gallup International which polled 66,806 people for the survey, said: “Over half of the world still believes that religion plays a positive role in their country.
“Having said that, it is interesting to note that Western Europe bucks this trend considerably, highlighting the complex role of religion within the region and the impact that a secular outlook has on a country.”
Africa was the most positive region, while Indonesia was the most positive country in the world about religion.
Nine countries were highly sceptical and recorded overall negativity towards religion, including Denmark which was the most negative at -36 per cent and France which scored -22 per cent.
The survey also found education and religious belief affect attitudes to spiritual belief.
A lower net positivity of 20 per cent was recorded among people who were educated to Masters or PhD level, compared to a net score of 57 per cent among those with no education.
Muslims and Protestants were also more optimistic about the impact of belief, while Hindus were the least positive.

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Change and Decay 3: The Religious Right

AlterNet / By CJ Werleman
Christian Right Has Major Role in Hastening Decline of Religion in America
Soon, there will be more atheists and agnostics than Christians.

March 22, 2014

Of those aged 18 to 35, three in 10 say they are not affiliated with any religion, while only half are “absolutely certain” a god exists. These are at or near the highest levels of religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the 25 years the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

As encouraging as this data is for secular humanists, the actual numbers may be significantly higher, as columnist Tina Dupuy observes. “When it comes to self-reporting religious devotion Americans cannot be trusted. We under-estimate our calories, over-state our height, under-report our weight and when it comes to piety—we lie like a prayer rug.”

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

Political scientists Robert Putman and David Campbell, the authors of American Grace, argue that the Christian Right’s politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. “While the Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics, the rest of the country has been moving in the opposite direction.”

Ironically, the rise of the Christian Right over the course of the past three decades may well end up being the catalyst for Christianity’s rapid decline. From the moment Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, evangelical Christians, who account for roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population, identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. Michael Spencer, a writer who describes himself as a post-evangelical reform Christian, says, “Evangelicals fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith. Evangelicals will be seen increasingly as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.”

In light of the recent backlash against Republicans who supported the right-to-discriminate bills across 11 states, Spencer’s words seem prophetic. Republican lawmakers had expected evangelicals to mobilize in the aftermath of Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s veto of SB1062. Instead, legislatures in states like Mississippi, Kansas, and Oklahoma have largely backed down from attempts to protect “religious freedom” after a national outcry branded the proposed bills discriminatory.

Every denomination in the U.S. is losing both affiliation and church attendance. In some ways the country is a half-generation behind the declining rate of Christianity in other western countries like the U.K., Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, France, and the Netherlands. In those countries, what were once churches are now art galleries, cafes and pubs. In Germany more than 50 percent say they do not believe in any god, and this number is declining rapidly. In the U.K., church attendances have halved since the 1970s.

A recent study into thebeliefs of people living in 137 countries concludes that religious people will be a minority in many developed countries by 2041. Nigel Barber, an Irish bio-psychologist, based his book, Why Atheism Will Replace Religion, on the findings. His book also debunks the popular belief that religious groups will dominate atheistic ones because they collectively have more children. “Noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve,” writes Barber.

Anthropologists have often stated that religion evolved to help early man cope with anxiety and insecurity. Barber contends that supernatural belief is in decline everywhere for the fact that ordinary people enjoy a decent standard of living and are secure in their health and finances. “The market for formal religion is also being squeezed by modern substitutes such as sports and entertainment. Even Facebook is killing religion because it provides answers for peculiarly modern narcissistic anxieties for which religion has no answer,” observes Barber.

While some polls show roughly 9 in 10 Americans still maintain belief in a god or gods, the trend of religious young Americans is toward a mish-mash of varied religious beliefs. A 2010 USA Today survey revealed that 72 percent of the nation’s young people identify as “more spiritual than religious.”

With an increasingly majority of younger Americans accepting evolution as fact, Christianity for many under 35 is becoming a watered-down hybrid of eastern philosophy and biblical teachings. “The turn towards being ‘spiritual but not religious’ points at the decreasing observation of doctrine and strict rules and a broader relationship to sentiment and ‘Jesus and me’ on the one hand alongside the rise of yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and a blend or smorgasbord of eastern practices with the idea of being loosely/broadly spiritual—yet not in any specific context or foundation of the Trinity, Seven Deadly Sins, Karma, Nirvana or any of the pillars or branches of belief,” writes Alan Miller, moderator of a “spiritual but not religious” event.

Young people are turning away from the church and from basic Christian beliefs. While a number of non-denominational mega-churches continue to thrive, their teachings are less dogma and more self-help. Eventually, Christianity-Lite will be replaced with Spirituality-Full Strength.

Certainly, pro-secular groups have been largely successful in removing Jesus from the public square, workplace and classroom.

All of which leaves only one self-evident conclusion: that despite the Christian Right’s well-funded and well-organized effort to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy, Christianity will inevitably mirror the days of its origins i.e. something that is only whispered about in secretly guarded places. And that may happen sooner than you think.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America,” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.” Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman


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And then there were……. none?

Time for good deeds from the dying Catholic church
Amid shame and scandal, the church’s clerics do little or nothing; it needs another ecclesiastical convulsion

Kevin McKenna
The Observer, Saturday 15 March 2014 20.00 GMT

A woman of faith strolling elegantly through her 70s spoke to me last week about betrayal and hypocrisy. This lady’s Catholicism has nourished and sustained her every day of her life but now, though her faith remains, her respect for the people who lead her church has vanished. In its place there is only anger and bitterness.

Just over a year after Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to resign as leader of the Catholic church in Scotland, the consequences of decades of abuse and lies by priests and bishops have been laid bare.

The revelation last week that around half of the Catholic parishes in the west of Scotland may have to close in the next few years owing to a shortage of priests seemed at first to be shocking. But this has been whispered for years now and did not surprise those of us who have witnessed the slow withering of the Catholic church.

In Scotland, it is now barely fit for its purpose of bringing souls to their saviour and providing light and hope in places where there is none. It has nothing to say any more about the issues of the day and, frankly, who would listen anyway?

There are, currently, only two men training to become priests from the from the church’s west of Scotland heartlands. In less than a generation, it is expected that barely 40 priests will remain. This is an optimistic figure as few Catholic families remain who would happily hand their sons into the care of this sick and corrupt institution. Meanwhile, the church will continue to haemorrhage serving priests disillusioned with their vocation or because they ought never to have been there to begin with.

Those of us who had hoped to see some signs of penitence or, at least, self-awareness from the hierarchy following the O’Brien scandal are still waiting. Catherine Deveney, the journalist who broke the O’Brien story in the Observer, has since told of her treatment at the hands of the officers of her church.

She has received abusive correspondence from senior clergymen and a “horrifying” letter written by the church’s director of communications, Peter Kearney, an individual who wields a baleful and disproportionate quantum of influence in the church and who similarly has long outlived his usefulness.

Leo Cushley, a Vatican message boy with next to no pastoral experience, has been parachuted into the top job in Scotland. He has said or done little of significance since his appointment, apart from a couple of Homes & Gardens-type press interviews. Do not expect that state to change soon

Another prelate, Archbishop Mario Conti, now lives in gilded retirement in a £750,000 grace-and-favour mansion on Glasgow’s South Side. His decade-long tenure as leader of the city’s Catholics passed without any distinction whatsoever, save for a bizarre and camp obsession with the shinier excesses of Italian culture, about which, of course, they talk of little else in the pubs and clubs frequented by his people.

Less than a mile from Conti’s Ponderosa, food banks are doing a brisk trade, while secular agencies seek action on the plight of 250,000 Scots children living in poverty. Well, at least someone is responding to them, even if the Catholic church isn’t.

On Tuesday morning, the Very Reverend Dr Andrew McLellan, former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, will discuss, for the first time, the details of the remit of the McLellan commission, established to undertake a critical review of all aspects of Safeguarding policy, procedure and practice within the Catholic church in Scotland. A more appropriate setting for this event would have been a recently locked stable with a big horse galloping gaily down the road into the distance.

Few doubt that McLellan will bring diligence and integrity to his task, but unless his remit includes looking at the causes and effects of priestly sex abuse in the Catholic church in Scotland it will achieve nothing.

Here are three main causes: a catastrophic failure of leadership stretching back 60-odd years; a recruitment policy that appeared to have been influenced by Willy Wonka and a pathological and sinister hatred of homosexuality. This simply drove many young, broken and fragile gay Catholics into the priesthood where they were expected to subsume their wretched sexuality in a life of celibacy and denial.

It was a tragic mixture of self-delusion and resentment and would leave many of them prey to the wickedness that lurked in the dark heart of this thoroughly discredited institution. Denial, self-delusion, bitterness, resentment and intimidation: the hallmarks of the Catholic church in Scotland.

Even in this its darkest hour, though, the church has a shining opportunity to make something good of its straitened circumstances. Many of the churches that may have to shut were built brick by brick by the poor Irish immigrants who revived Catholicism in Scotland. The land upon which they stand and the grand homes that were built to house their priests were purchased with the help of their self-sacrifice. More than 50,000 people have used a food bank to feed themselves this year while child poverty in Scotland has reached obscene levels.

As a good act of contrition and reparation for the damage it has caused to Scotland and the betrayal of its own, the Catholic hierarchy must give these properties back to their people for the purpose of providing succour to the poor, alms to the traveller and solace to those in distress.

Travelling through Lewis and Harris the other week, not for the first time I had cause to admire the stripped-down and spare beauty of the Free Church of Scotland. Unencumbered by careless devotions to forgotten saints and moving Madonnas, it continues to provide wisdom and discernment to those whom it touches. It is closer to what St Peter and St Paul thought God’s church should look like than that which Rome has constructed.

The Scottish Catholic church requires another ecclesiastical convulsion. In this, it would join with its brothers and sisters in the reformed traditions, minus a lot of the baggage it clung on to after the first one.

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