In response to the publication today by the Scottish Executive of an analysis of Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/11/24133659/0) Cardinal Keith O'Brien has issued the following statement.
"I welcome the publication today by the Justice Minister of an analysis of Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. I note that today's analysis appears two years after the period it relates to; it is also two years since the last such study of Religiously Aggravated Crime was published. With this in mind I would urge the Scottish Executive to establish as a matter of urgency a mechanism which will allow the publication of such crucial data on a far more regular and timely basis.
Many people have joined the debate on tackling sectarianism in Scotland in recent years. Without up to date empirical data on the subject however discussion can quickly become ill informed and anecdotal. As in other areas of public policy initiatives in this field must be targeted and should respond to demonstrable needs.
Sadly, today's document shows that Catholics in Scotland are still many times more likely to be subject to a sectarian attack than any other group. During the period of the study, Catholics were in fact five times more likely to be victims of a religiously aggravated crime. (Appendix 1) This is a matter of grave concern to me.
In 2004 when such an analysis of sectarian offences was last produced statistics showed that 71% of cases did not relate to either football or parades, today's figures show that 70% of cases do not relate to either football or parades. With this in mind I am forced to question the wisdom of numerous high profile initiatives focusing on football clubs or the constant marginalisation of sectarianism in Scotland as little more than drink-fuelled, post-match rivalry. It is, sadly, deeper, wider and altogether more pervasive than that.
It is not, poverty, alcohol or football which underpins most cases of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland, but blatant anti-Catholicism. This is evident in our media on a daily basis where attacks on Catholic schools fill the letters pages, the opinion columns and editorials of our newspapers and the airtime of our radio and television stations.
It is worth remembering that none of the mainstream political parties have questioned the existence of Catholic schools or proposed any change to them. The issue will not feature in their manifestos in 2007, neither is it a matter of pressing public concern. Each time a newspaper or broadcaster decides, in the face of this indifference to raise, promote or advance these arguments, they fan the flames of religious hatred and empower those whose
views are not so diplomatically expressed.
I am today writing to the First Minister, urging him to join with me in asking the Scottish media to adopt a far more cautious and measured approach in future to the topic of Catholic schools and suggesting that he considers very carefully how best he can incorporate the views and experience of the Catholic community who are so disproportionately affected by this problem
into the proceedings of the forthcoming "Summit on Sectarianism".
It is my strongly held belief that the time has come for much wider and more detailed research into religiously aggravated crime which seeks to explain why Scotland's Catholics continue to suffer from such crimes out of all proportion to their numbers."
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