06 April 2022, The Tablet

The seven bishops at the helm in Scotland – who they are and what makes them special

The Scottish hierarchy: The new man in Glasgow, William Nolan, 68, has broken the mould already by declaring himself not very interested in sport.

The seven bishops at the helm in Scotland – who they are and what makes them special

The Most Reverend William Nolan is installed as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow in February.
PA Images / Alamy


With the installation of William Nolan, previously the Bishop of Galloway, as Archbishop of Glasgow, the leadership of the Scottish Catholic Church has taken on a more pastoral and synodal hue. We look at the seven men now at the helm

Central Casting’s image of a bishop or cardinal (we’d pay to see his Richelieu), Joseph Toal, the Bishop of Motherwell since 2014, has been described (admiringly) as “chilled”, possessed of a canny demeanour under pressure. He needed every ounce of chill in 2016 when, amid scenes that one observer described as “near riot”, he suspended Fr Matthew Despard of St John Ogilvie’s Church in High Blantyre for publishing what Toal described as “defamatory” accusations of bullying and sexual misconduct in the Church. In the face of loud opposition and walkouts, Toal stood his ground. 

Born in Roy Bridge, Inverness-shire, Toal, 65, is a Highlander of Irish extraction, proud of his Co. Monaghan connections. After serving at the Royal Scots College in Salamanca, he was appointed bishop of his own diocese of Argyll and the Isles in 2008. He admits to having “meddled” in Gaelic, but does not claim to be a fluent speaker. Thanks to a widely circulated press photograph, he acquired a reputation as one of the few modern clerics to have literally embraced pastoralism. “When I was parish priest at St Michael’s Ardkenneth, the parish had a flock of sheep and I helped out with the winter feeding. Other priests in the Western Isles also had sheep, so I wasn’t exceptional. It does fit with Pope Francis’ thoughts on the smell of the sheep, though.”


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