BY LUKE COPPEN
THE ARCIWISHoP Of Glasgow has urged Catholics and Protestants to cut the "cancer of sectarianism" out of Scotland's body politic.
Speaking at a historic ecumenical gathering last Sunday, Archbishop Mario Conti said sectarianism was caused by "cultural, material and spiritual poverty" and violated the spirit of"true religion".
Archbishop Conti told the congregation at St Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow, that Christians needed to work harder to put old prejudices behind them and create a more tolerant society.
He said: "Over the last year 1 have been asked time and time again about the cancer of sectarianism. It is clearly related to cultural. spiritual and material poverty.
"The bullies and fanatics who engage in sectarian behaviour must he left in no doubt that their activities have no justification in the name of true religion.
"It is the Gospel, with its vision of a community based upon mutual love, with its message of accountability before God for our own and our neighbour's good, which is the true antidote to so many of these social and spiritual problems.
"And in a city which is often harshly judged for its manifestations of intolerance, I feel a very special responsibility rests on the believers in Christ to work together, visibly together, for the benefit of all Glaswegians."
Archbishop Conti was invited to preach at the Church of Scotland cathedral by the minister, the Rev Dr William Morris. The two men were joined by the leaders of Glasgow's six other main Christian denominations for a special service marking the 1,400th anniversary of the death of St Mungo. The historic ceremony was the first of a year-long series of events designed to commemorate the saint who founded Glasgow and who died in January 603.
Archbishop Conti said his meeting with fellow church leader had convinced him that the anniversary of St Mungo's death was a "marvellous opportunity" to strengthen ties between local Christian denominations.
"This first event is a clear signal of the desire of Glasgow's Christians to put aside any lingering animosities and journey together," he said. To use the words made famous by Pope John Paul in this very city 21 years ago: 'Can we not make that journey together, hand in hand?' Together we can achieve much. Separated we are seriously weakened."
But the day after the service, the Glasgow Herald published a survey purporting to show that almost half of Scots believe that statefunded Catholic schools should be abolished. The newspaper said that the poll was likely to fuel the debate on the issue of separate Catholic education in Scotland, which has been accused of fostering religious prejudice.
But Scotland's first minister, Jack McConnell, who announced a strategy to tackle sectarianism last month, defended the right of Catholics to separate schooling. "The Catholic school system in Scotland teaches consistently high standards of discipline and achievement and tampering with that system would be very wrong because so many children benefit from that quality of education," he said. "Education systems cannot be designed by opinion polls."