31 July 2015, The Tablet

Faith in the Highlands

Whatever sympathy one might have for Brian Devlin in his grievances against the Catholic Church in Scotland (Letters, The Tablet, 18 July), his comments are unsupported by the experience of the worshipping, living Church here.

In the Diocese of Aberdeen we have a wise, learned, caring and prayerful bishop who enjoys the affection and respect of parishioners in his widespread diocese. We have been fortunate that Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB has brought in Dominican Sisters from the United States, Franciscan priests from Poland and elsewhere, Indian priests, and pastorally minded and popular priests from Africa. We have been much blessed by our Catholic diversity. As we have said farewell to Sacred Heart sisters from Poland, so we at St Mary’s, Inverness are joyfully awaiting three Daughters of Divine Love from Nigeria.

Furthermore it has been my experience as dean of this Highland area for some eight years that congregational, parish life is actually thriving. Certainly in the area in which Mr Devlin resides he will find lively Eucharistic communities, who welcome the lapsed, the strangers and the enquirers and seekers. There is a steady trickle of converts, and even without any Catholic secondary schools in our area we manage to retain a significant number of our young people. From this Highland deanery we have three men in seminary, with one more going in September to join the other three seminarians from elsewhere in the Diocese.
Fr James Bell, Inverness

My Indian and African friends found Mr Devlin’s letter extremely disrespectful. He seems to have taken umbrage at the fact that some of Scotland’s bishops are introducing missionaries into their diocese, and he does not seem to think that mission can produce fruits.

Could I suggest a few cases where they did: St Paul (modern-day Turkey, Malta, Rome, first century); St Columba (Scotland, sixth century); St Willibrord (Germany, eighth century); Ss Cyril and Methodius (Balkans, ninth century); St Francis Xavier (India, China, Japan, sixteenth century); St Emily de Vialar (Africa, nineteenth century); St Eugene de Mazenod (Global mission, nineteenth century); St Daniel Comboni (Africa, nineteenth century). The list is endless.

African and Indian friends of mine working in what they would call the European or North American missions are eager to serve. In many places (but not everywhere, of course) they are already harvesting fruits. It may well be that their vision for the Church is not shared by Mr Devlin, but that is no reason to disparage their presence in Scotland, or the bishops who invited them to come. After all, by their fruits you will know them.

Finally, there is Mr Devlin’s suggestion that the Church in Scotland is in terminal decline, and that this is the fault of Scotland’s bishops, past and present. This conclusion takes no account of the fact that the drop in Mass attendance in Scotland has slowed down significantly, nor of the complicated socio-economic and cultural factors that impact on Mass attendance.
Dr Harry Schnitker, Senior Research Tutor, Maryvale Institute, Birmingham; Senior Research Fellow, St Ninian Institute, Dundee; Associate Fellow, St Andrew Foundation, University of Glasgow


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