Pope confirms visit to Scotland, praises Scottish Catholic education

L-R: Bishop Joseph Toal, Bishop Mone (Emeritus), Bishop Cunningham, Bishop Devine, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, His Holiness Pope Benedict, Archbishop Mario Conti, Bishop Logan, Bishop Murray (Emeritus), Bishop Moran, Bishop Philip Tartaglia

L-R: Bishop Joseph Toal, Bishop Mone (Emeritus), Bishop Cunningham, Bishop Devine, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, His Holiness Pope Benedict, Archbishop Mario Conti, Bishop Logan, Bishop Murray (Emeritus), Bishop Moran, Bishop Philip Tartaglia

Addressing Scotland's Catholic Bishops in Rome today, the Pope has confirmed he will travel to Scotland later this year as part of his UK visit. Responding to an address by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Pope said; "Later this year, I shall have the joy of being present with you and the Catholics of Scotland on your native soil."

In his remarks, Pope Benedict spoke against euthanasia and sectarianism and gave vocal support to Scotland's Catholic schools saying: "Faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion."

Referring to the Reformation 450 years ago which he described as a "great rupture with Scotland’s Catholic past" the Pope stressed the need for ongoing ecumenical dialogue, to ensure that "the work of rebuilding unity among the followers of Christ is carried forward with constancy and commitment."

The Pope concluded by imparting his Apostolic Blessing on the Catholic Church in Scotland.

Reacting to the address, Cardinal Keith O'Brien said: "Together with my brother Bishops, I am filled with joy at the news that the Holy Father will visit Scotland, since he has confirmed his intention to visit us we in turn will now begin our preparations for his visit in earnest."

The Scottish Bishops met the Pope in a private audience this morning, during which Cardinal Keith O'Brien thanked the Pope for his teaching and promised him a "heartfelt welcome" to Scotland later this year, saying "we are thrilled that your visit will include Scotland"

The Cardinal who is President of the Bishops' Conference added: "As Scots Catholics we are proud of our nation’s long relationship with the Holy See."

He stressed the Church's long commitment to education from earliest times, citing; "the foundation by Papal authority of three of our great Scottish universities at St Andrews in 1413, Glasgow in 1451, and Aberdeen in 1495."

"Catholic schools at primary and secondary level continue this fine tradition of Catholic education as a service not just to the Catholic community but to the wider Scottish society."

Cardinal O'Brien concluded by asking the Pope for his Apostolic Blessing "for us, for our priests and our people, and for Scotland."

The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's address is shown below followed by Pope Benedict's reply.



Most Holy Father,


The Bishops Conference of Scotland is honoured to be received by Your Holiness on the occasion of our visit Ad Limina Apostolorum. We bring you the prayers and love of the Catholics of Scotland, and the good wishes of the whole Scottish people.

Each year, together with the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, we solemnly celebrate the anniversary of your election as Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the Universal Church. We are pleased to take that special annual opportunity to bring the Petrine Ministry of the Pope before the people of Scotland and their representatives, and to offer prayers that God may bless and protect you.

When in 1878 Pope Leo XIII re-established the Scottish hierarchy the Holy See acknowledged Scotland as a distinct nation, albeit within a Kingdom formed from the union of the Scottish and English crowns subsequent to the Reformation. As Scots Catholics we are proud of our nation’s long relationship with the Holy See.

It has been a feature of Your Holiness’ teaching to remind Europe of its Christian roots and culture. In the same way, we as bishops have drawn the attention of the Scottish people to the fact that the human and democratic values of a modern and diverse Scotland can only be enhanced by continuing to draw upon its Christian foundation as the nation explores its own identity and charts a new future.

Your Holiness has let it be known that you will visit Great Britain in the autumn, and we are thrilled that your visit will include Scotland. We remember with joy the visit of your venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1982. We are certain that the Scottish people will give Your Holiness a heartfelt welcome. We hope that your visit to Scotland later this year will bring us renewed encouragement, vigour and joy as we seek to serve Christ in the circumstances of the present day.


Providentially, Your Holiness will visit Scotland in mid-September around the time of the feast of St Ninian. St Ninian, ordained a bishop in Rome, was the first to teach the message of Christ in Scotland and to begin to bind the Scottish people to the See of Peter. The relationship between the Catholic Church and education in Scotland was given an even
more profound significance a thousand years later in the foundation by papal authority of three of our great Scottish universities at St Andrews in 1413, Glasgow in 1451, and Aberdeen in 1495. Then, due to the arduous circumstances created by the Scottish Reformation, your predecessor, Pope Clement VIII established the Pontifical Scots College here in Rome in 1600 as a centre of education for young Scottish Catholic men. This college quickly became a house of formation for priests and has continued to serve the Catholic Church in Scotland as a seminary for more than 400 years.

Vocations to the priesthood and the formation of our seminarians together constitute a priority for the Catholic Church in Scotland. In terms of Scotland’s young people as a whole, Catholic schools at primary and secondary level continue this fine tradition of Catholic education as a service not just to the Catholic community but to the wider Scottish society. As part of the public provision of education Catholic schools represent a special locus wherein the Catholic Church and the State are full partners.


Your Holiness, we have been inspired and enriched by the transparency and the profundity of your teaching, which has in turn inspired us in our duty as teachers of the faith. We note that many people of other Christian denominations and representatives of other faith traditions in our country actually look to our Church for leadership in the great religious, moral and ethical issues of the time. They too welcome the prospect of a visit to our land from Your Holiness in the hope that they may gain a deeper appreciation of Jesus Christ and of the way in which faith and reason come together to shed God’s light on the questions which both fascinate and trouble the human spirit. What does it mean to be a human person who is open to the transcendent mystery of God? How is this transcendence mediated definitively by Jesus Christ? How is human transcendence expressed in the moral and ethical choices we make about how we live and how we die?


In your pontificate you have insisted on the importance of continuing to seek the unity for which Christ prayed. You yourself have offered the Church a particularly eloquent example of ecumenical openness by responding in such a singular way to certain Anglican groups who wish full communion with the See of Peter. For many reasons this period in history may be seen as a challenging time on the journey of Christian Unity.

Nonetheless we are committed to the ecumenical dimension of the life of the Catholic Church in Scotland, not least through our membership of the ecumenical instrument known as Action of Churches Together in Scotland, or simply as ACTS. Later this year we will share in the centenary celebrations of the Edinburgh Missionary Congress of 1910 which is regarded as the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement. This year also marks the 450th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. The Reformers insisted upon the primacy of the Sacred Scriptures. It is more important now than ever that Christians allow themselves to be renewed by the Word of God as indispensable for the unity of the Church. Ecumenical engagement must also extend to ensuring that the Christian tradition of faith and morals is articulated, promoted and defended.


Your Holiness, we once again thank you for receiving us today. With respectful anticipation we await your message, hoping for your guidance for our ministry as bishops. Holy Father, we ask your Apostolic Blessing for us, for our priests and our people, and for Scotland.

Dear Brother Bishops,
I extend a warm welcome to all of you on your ad Limina visit to Rome.  I thank you for the kind words that Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien has addressed to me on your behalf, and I assure you of my constant prayers for you and for the faithful entrusted to your care.  Your presence here expresses a reality that lies at the heart of every Catholic diocese – its relationship of communio with the See of Peter, and hence with the universal Church.  Pastoral initiatives that take due account of this essential dimension bring authentic renewal: when the bonds of communion with the universal Church, and in particular with Rome, are accepted joyfully and lived fully, the people’s faith can grow freely and yield a harvest of good works.

It is a happy coincidence that the Year for Priests, which the whole Church is currently celebrating, marks the four hundredth anniversary of the priestly ordination of the great Scottish martyr Saint John Ogilvie.  Rightly venerated as a faithful servant of the Gospel, he was truly outstanding in his dedication to a difficult and dangerous pastoral ministry, to the point of laying down his life.  Hold him up as an example for your priests today.  I am glad to know of the emphasis you place on continuing formation for your clergy, especially through the initiative “Priests for Scotland”.  The witness of priests who are genuinely committed to prayer and joyful in their ministry bears fruit not only in the spiritual lives of the faithful, but also in new vocations.  Remember, though, that your commendable initiatives to promote vocations must be accompanied by sustained catechesis among the faithful about the true meaning of priesthood.
Emphasize the indispensable role of the priest in the Church’s life, above all in providing the Eucharist by which the Church herself receives life.  And encourage those entrusted with the formation of seminarians to do all they can to prepare a new generation of committed and zealous priests, well equipped humanly, academically and spiritually for the task of ministry in the twenty-first century.
Hand in hand with a proper appreciation of the priest’s role is a correct understanding of the specific vocation of the laity.  Sometimes a tendency to confuse lay apostolate with lay ministry has led to an inward-looking concept of their ecclesial role.  Yet the Second Vatican Council’s vision is that wherever the lay faithful live out their baptismal vocation – in the family, at home, at work – they are actively participating in the Church’s mission to sanctify the world. 

A renewed focus on lay apostolate will help to clarify the roles of clergy and laity and so give  strong impetus to the task of evangelizing society. That task requires a readiness to grapple firmly with the challenges presented by the increasing tide of secularism in your country.  Support for euthanasia strikes at the very heart of the Christian understanding of the dignity of human life.  Recent developments in medical ethics and some of the practices advocated in the field of embryology give cause for great concern.  If the Church’s teaching is compromised, even slightly, in one such area, then it becomes hard to defend the fullness of Catholic doctrine in an integral manner.  Pastors of the Church, therefore, must continually call the faithful to complete fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, while at the same time upholding and defending the Church’s right to live freely in society according to her beliefs.

The Church offers the world a positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood.  It is rooted in God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us, which opens our eyes to recognize and love his image in our neighbour (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 10-11 et passim).  Be sure to present this teaching in such a way that it is recognized for the message of hope that it is.  All too often the Church’s doctrine is perceived as a series of prohibitions and retrograde positions, whereas the reality, as we know, is that it is creative and life-giving, and it is directed towards the fullest possible realization of the great potential for good and for happiness that God has implanted within every one of us.

The Church in your country, like many in Northern Europe, has suffered the tragedy of division.  It is sobering to recall the great rupture with Scotland’s Catholic past that occurred four hundred and fifty years ago.  I give thanks to God for the progress that has been made in healing the wounds that were the legacy of that period, especially the sectarianism that has continued to rear its head even in recent times.  Through your participation in Action of Churches Together in Scotland, see that the work of rebuilding unity among the followers of Christ is carried forward with constancy and commitment.  While resisting any pressure to dilute the Christian message, set your sights on the goal of full, visible unity, for nothing less can respond to the will of Christ.

You can be proud of the contribution made by Scotland’s Catholic schools in overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities.  Faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion, and when the occasion arises, you do well to underline this point.  As you encourage Catholic teachers in their work, place special emphasis on the quality and depth of religious education, so as to prepare an articulate and well-informed Catholic laity, able and willing to carry out its mission  “by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Christifideles Laici, 15).  A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland’s national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question.

Later this year, I shall have the joy of being present with you and the Catholics of Scotland on your native soil.  As you prepare for the Apostolic Visit, encourage your people to pray that it will be a time of grace for the whole Catholic community.  Take the opportunity to deepen their faith and to rekindle their commitment to bear witness to the Gospel.  Like the monks from Iona who spread the Christian message throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, let them be beacons of faith and holiness for the Scottish people today.

With these thoughts, I commend your apostolic labours to the intercession of Our Lady, Saint Andrew, Saint Margaret and all the saints of Scotland.  To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The 11 members of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland visiting the Holy See are:

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrew’s & Edinburgh, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland
Archbishop Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow and Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland
Bishop Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley and Episcopal Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland
Bishop Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell
Bishop Vincent Logan, Bishop of Dunkeld
Bishop Peter Moran, Bishop of Aberdeen
Bishop John Cunningham, Bishop of Galloway
Bishop Joseph Toal, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles
Bishop John Mone, Bishop Emeritus of Paisley
Bishop Ian Murray, Bishop Emeritus of Argyll and the Isles
Fr Paul Conroy, General Secretary to the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland

Source: SCMO

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