The director of the bishops' parliamentary office said Catholics face 'alarming levels of intolerance'

A culture of fear in Scotland discourages people from speaking openly about their faith, the head of a bishops’ conference agency has said.

Anthony Horan, director of the bishops’ Catholic Parliamentary Office, told a committee at the Scottish parliament: “My overriding concern is the culture of fear that runs right through society and which makes people feel at best uncomfortable and at worst totally frightened to be open about their faith.”

Mr Horan was speaking to MSPs on the equalities and human rights committee on the subject of bullying and harassment at schools and religious prejudice.

He said he had passed on testimonies of “a number of young people who had experienced anti-Catholic prejudice in their school, most of it relating to the Church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. One student even dropped a subject to ‘avoid the harassment’.”

He pointed out that in Scotland the majority of religiously aggravated crime was committed against Catholics and that criminal charges were “at an all time high”.

“A deeply worrying and disturbing 57 per cent of charges are as a result of anti-Catholic behaviour. Compare this to the percentage of charges relating to Protestantism (27 per cent) and Islam (17 per cent) and we are left with an undoubted sectarian problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.

“There is an alarming level of intolerance being levelled at some young people simply because they are Catholic or because they hold a particular view that others may disagree with. This is not a culture of tolerance and respect. We have to be very mindful of the need to tackle anti-religious behaviour and be wary of creating a hierarchy of rights in relation to the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010. We cannot allow some to trump others. It must be all or nothing.”

In last year’s Social Attitudes Survey 15 per cent of Scots said they were Catholic and 35 per cent belonged to the Church of Scotland while 11 per cent belonged to another denomination. Only two per cent adhered to a non-Christian religion. Fifty-two per cent of Scots said they were not religious.