This month the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be invited to confirm a declaration of friendship with the Catholic Church in Scotland that offers ‘a decisive and irrevocable statement of our friendship with one another, based on our shared faith in Christ.’
“We recognise each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and we wish to express our friendship and respect for one another as fellow Christians, citizens and partners in announcing the kingdom of God in our land,” the declaration says.
Written by senior figures from both Churches, the declaration describes the Churches’ shared beliefs and common Christian history and has already been approved by the Bishops of Scotland.
Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine of the University of Edinburgh told The Scottish Catholic that the declaration was ‘unprecedented’ and comes after ‘ecumenism in this country has made very significant progress.’
“Relations at all levels between the two major Christian Churches in Scotland have never been so cordial,” he said. “Confronted today by mass secularism, atheism and humanism, it is perhaps hardly surprising they look much more to the beliefs which unite rather than divide them.”
The professor said it was something of an irony that ‘this agreement is made public in 2022, almost a century after the launch in 1923 of the Kirk’s notorious campaign against Catholics of Irish birth or descent which then left a deep scar on relations between the two communities for many years thereafter. We have come a long way since those bitter times.’
Scott Spurlock, Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christainities, welcomed the ‘momentous’ declaration that ‘sits alongside wider trends of Christian in Europe.’
‘The real test,’ he said, ‘will be the extent to which the hierarchical structures who’ve made this declaration can meaningfully foster’ a brotherhood of Christ at the parish level and to ‘express this to the significant proportion of the Scottish population who have already walked away’ from the two Churches.
“However, it does offer hope for a brighter future of Christian love and charity in a nation that has been shaped in so many ways by the Christian faith,” he said.
Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh said that after years of living abroad, he was ‘soon struck by how far the people of the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland have come along the path of friendship in these last decades.’
“We have now spent forty years working diligently to respect and under- stand each other, what we have in common, what still divides us,” he said.
“In the meantime, through prayer together and social action, we have also become friends, and have grown to appreciate each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.”
He called the statement something to ‘acknowledge and celebrate’, stating that the bishops of Scotland welcomed the declaration.
Lord Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said that during his term as Moderator he had ‘very much valued the friendly and productive working relationship’ he had with members of the Catholic Church.
This declaration, he said, was a signal that ‘what unites us is so important to the lives of our fellow citizens and to being witnesses to the Gospel message in this land of Scotland’.
The declaration acknowledges ‘the hurt and the harm that our forebears did to each other in times past, and we repent and ask forgiveness of one other.’
“We also recognise that, even in more recent times, much could have been said between us more kindly, written more magnanimously, and done more charitably, to promote pardon and healing and friendship among Christians in our land,” it goes on.
“Acknowledging what separates us still, we reaffirm that what we hold in common is often greater than what divides us. While recognising that unity does not mean uniformity, we commit ourselves to continuing our pilgrimage towards greater unity, as we believe that it is the Lord’s will that we be one.”
Read more in the upcoming edition of The Scottish Catholic magazine.