The bishop of Paisley has defended the choice of Nicola Sturgeon as the speaker at this year’s Cardinal Winning lecture.

The invitation, made by the University of Glasgow, provoked dismay because of the First Minister’s support for abortion. Last year her government agreed to fund abortions for pregnant women from Northern Ireland.

Cardinal Winning, a staunch pro-lifer, set up a charity, the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative, to help women facing crisis pregnancies.

Bishop John Keenan said Sturgeon’s lecture, which will take place on March 3, was intended to mark the centenary of the Education (Scotland) Act, which formalised the relationship between church and state in providing Catholic education.

He said it was “quite appropriate” that, in marking this “long, fruitful partnership between the Church and the state”, the First Minister be invited to make an address “in tribute to the enormous contribution Catholics have made to Scottish society over the century.” He added that Sturgeon was being invited in her capacity as First Minister, rather than as a politician.

The bishop continued: “Perhaps it can also be the occasion of honest dialogue as to how much … freedom our Catholic schools are presently afforded by the state simply to be Catholic, and to propose and promote our particular Christian vision of the human person, without undue political pressure to conform to an aggressively secular anthropology currently in vogue”.

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