'Changed' Scotland prepares for Pope's visit

'Changed' Scotland prepares for Pope's visit

The face of Catholicism in Scotland has changed significantly since the last Pope visited the country almost 30 years ago.

Britain is thought to be one of the most secular countries Pope Benedict XVI has visited since he was elected in 2005.

He starts the first state visit by a Pope to Britain in Edinburgh before travelling to Glasgow to conduct an open-air Mass.

There he will be met by a much smaller crowd than the 250,000 who greeted Pope John Paul II, dubbed the “rock-star Pope”, on June 1 1982, when he conducted his open-air Mass at Bellahouston on his pastoral visit to the UK.

Today 65,000 are expected when Pope Benedict XVI speaks at the same venue.

The Catholic population in Scotland has dropped from 814,400 in 1982 to 803,700 today, bolstered by the influx of Poles, the Catholic Church said.

Less than half (42%) of Scots Catholics go to mass once a week, according to latest research from Opinion Research Business.

John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at St Andrews University and a Vatican adviser, believes that the changing values of modern life are a major factor behind the decline.

He said: “The last 30 years have seen considerable changes in British society and the West generally, with the rise of cheap travel, internet, 24-hour TV, and along with that the decline of traditional social institutions in which people invested their time and found their reward.

“Churches have suffered but so have political parties and trade unions.

“We’ve seen the rise of materialism and hedonism and the expansion of forms of immediate gratification, which have taken their toll on religious practices.

“Churches have also suffered with the declining number of vocations. There are fewer priests and people’s day-to-day experience of religion is much more rare.”

However, Prof Haldane believes that the decline is a temporary phenomenon and that there will be a resurgence of religion in the next decade or two as people search for more meaning to life.

The number of Catholic baptisms in Scotland dropped from 13,669 in 1982 to 8,270 in 2008, while the number of Catholic marriages fell from 5,361 to 1,949 over the same period.

In 1982 there were 1,122 Catholic priests in Scotland compared with 740 today, while the number of parishes has contracted from 476 to 452.

However, the number of seminarians training north of the border has risen since the new Pope was elected in 2005, rising 50% from 24 that year to 37 in the past five years, the so-called “Benedict Bounce”.

The Catholic Church in Scotland said that although congregations have declined, those who go to church nowadays are people who really want to be there rather than going just because it is expected of them.

Spokesman Peter Kearney said: “It is a measure of an increasingly secular society and a total change in the social climate where we now have 24/7 shopping, trading and entertainment.

“A generation ago not going to church on Sunday was almost counter-cultural, nowadays going to church on a Sunday is counter-cultural and, in that sense, I think we can say no-one is being forced or pushed or presumed into going, and those who go nowadays go entirely of their own volition.

“I think you have to distinguish quality from quantity. Going to church is not just about packing them in, it’s about having people who go because they want to go.”

Since he was elected, Pope Benedict XVI has often sparked controversy, including last year with comments that condoms were not the solution to Africa’s growing Aids problem.

There was outrage across the Islamic world in 2006 after he made remarks which were interpreted as derogatory to Islam.

In recent years the Catholic Church has also been mired in child sex abuse scandals.

Prof Haldane said he did not think the church in Scotland was too damaged, adding: “The Scottish Catholic Church is suffering from association with a broader problem but it is not suffering on the basis of the idea that it has been particularly culpable in this.”

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