LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic priest and several parishioners were “subjected to vile abuse” on Saturday, as a march by a Protestant group went by a Catholic Church in Glasgow, Scotland.
Father Tom White was greeting people after the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Alphonsus Church in the city when the Orange parade approached.
The Orange Order is a Protestant fraternal order based primarily in Northern Ireland, but with a strong presence in Scotland. It organizes marches in July to commemorate the victory of the Dutch-born Protestant King William of Orange, who defeated the army of the deposed Catholic King James II to secure the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland on July 1, 1690.
The marches are often a source of sectarian clashes between Protestants and Catholics in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, especially when they go through Catholic neighborhoods or by Catholic churches.
In a statement published on Facebook, the Archdiocese of Glasgow said police who had been guarding the church in anticipation of the march were called away to deal with another nearby incident, “leaving the priest and parishioners defenseless.”
The archdiocese said White and the parishioners “were subjected to vile abuse … ‘Fenian bastard’ being the most typical.”
“The priest was spat upon. Spittle landed on the back of his head. He wiped it away. Another mouthful of thick spittle was spat into his eye socket. Again he wiped it away leaving his hand full of the vile liquid,” the archdiocesan statement said. “He was then further insulted and lunged at by a man carrying a pole before police arrived to restore some kind of order.”
Police in Scotland confirmed they were investigating the incident, noting White “was not injured as a result of the assault and inquiries are ongoing.”
“Whilst the parade was passing the church at the time, any involvement, if at all, by someone from the Orange walk, is still to be established,” the police spokesperson said.
In their statement, the archdiocese posed two statements to the police and the Glasgow City Council: “What kind of society is it that allows ministers of religion and church goers to be intimidated and attacked by a group which has a long history of fomenting fear and anxiety on city streets? Why is the Orange Order still allowed to schedule its intimidating parades on streets containing Catholic Churches at times when people are trying to get in and out for Mass?”
While urging people to let the police properly investigate the matter, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a Twitter message that “behavior like this – hate crime of any kind – is simply unacceptable, and we will always consider what more we must do to eradicate it.”
In March, the Scottish government announced it would dedicate nearly $700,000 to different anti-sectarianism programs. It has also set up a working group to look into a legal definition of the term.
Earlier in the year, Scotland repealed the Offensive Behavior at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act after complaints by soccer fans and free speech advocates.
Sectarian clashes often surround matches between the two biggest Glasgow soccer teams, the Protestant-supported Rangers and the Catholic-supported Celtic.