Pope snubbed by Scottish Catholics

Thousands turn down the chance to see the Pope in person, and controversy over costs continues.

Controversy has broken out over the Pope's planned open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park, near Glasgow, with many parishes returning more than half of their allocated tickets for the event.

The organisers now reportedly fear that attendance will fall short of the 100,000 they expected to come to the Mass, which will cost £1.5m to stage. Each of Scotland's 450 Catholic parishes received a pro-rata ticket allocation based on the size of its regular congregation, but the Herald reports that, in some cases, only one-sixth of the parishioners are planning to take up their places at the papal event.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the same site on a sunny afternoon, with 300,000 people in attendance. The choice of this site has been interpreted as an attempt to re-create the success and popularity of that service for a pope who has been under siege in recent months.

The open-air Mass requires participants to be in their places hours before the two-hour service begins, and it is thought that fears about the weather and long travel times are putting people off. Distant parishes are also planning to watch the service via video link, rather than travel to the other side of the country to attend in person.

The service, which will take place on 19 September during the Pope's state visit to Britain, has also reopened the debate over the cost of the papal trip to Britain. Although it insists that pilgrims will not have to pay to attend the Mass at Bellahouston, the Catholic Church has asked each parish to make a donation of £20 per attendee -- an obligation that many parishes have passed on to their parishioners.

The total cost of the visit, which will be borne by Britain, as the host nation, provoked outrage in some quarters when it was revealed that it could exceed £20m. As well as asking for "voluntary donations" from the public to cover the cost of specific events, the Catholic Church is also asking members to donate towards the overall cost of the visit, which it currently estimates at £7m.

The Church is also selling merchandise to coincide with the trip. T-shirts, fridge magnets and mugs are available, as well as more conventional religious artefacts.

Besides being hit by low attendance figures, the Pope's visit could suffer from a lack of television exposure, after BBC workers threatened to strike during that period (which will coincide with other major events such as the Last Night of the Proms) over pension disputes. Workers are being balloted on the issue; a result is expected in the week before the Pope is due to arrive in Britain.

Add to this the stated intention of Richard Dawkins and others to attempt to arrest the Pope for his alleged complicity in the child abuse scandal while he is on British soil, and we could be in for an eventful visit come September.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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