Catholic Mischief in Glasgow

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Even those who agree with the great Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything might be surprised to learn that the toxin extends its reach even to football (soccer). Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, has two major football teams - indeed they are Scotland's two top teams - Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.

By long tradition, the fans of these two teams break down by religion: Celtic represents the Catholics and Rangers the Protestants. Historically, the reason is the long association between this region of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Belfast and Glasgow have more in common than their depressed ship-building industries. The large Catholic population of Glasgow is mostly of Irish origin, while Orange Parades such as this one through the centre of Glasgow are all-but indistinguishable from their counterparts in Belfast.

If, in a crucial match between Rangers and Celtic, a referee's decision is unpopular, there is a high chance that he will be accused of sectarian religious prejudice, something that, I imagine, is not often seen in baseball or American football.

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This is the background to bitter storm that erupted recently, in which I seem to have become embroiled although I am neither Scottish nor a soccer fan. Hugh Dallas, czar of referees for the Scottish Football Association was fired because he passed on, in an eMail, a joke about Roman Catholic child rape. The pope is not, so far as we know, a pederast, but there is good evidence that he was deeply involved in covering up the crime and contributing to its repetition by priests moved to other dioceses and parishes. Anyway, this was the subject of the joke that was sent to Hugh Dallas, and he passed it on to somebody else.

The incident was brought to the attention of Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, also based in Glasgow. Kearney demanded that Dallas should be fired, and the Scottish Football Association, under its Chief Executive Stewart Regan, did indeed fire him, together with two other officials in his office.

When I read about this, alerted by a Scottish contributor to the discussion forum on my website, I was outraged that a man should lose his job because he passed on a joke. It seemed to me to be a classic example of our society's craven kowtowing to the religious lobby. The rest of us, it seemed to me, learn to take jokes on the chin. But the moment a religion is 'offended', we are all expected to tut-tut and grovel, and somebody gets fired.

I was also outraged that the BBC website on which I read the story had censored the punchline of the joke, again obviously to avoid giving 'offence'.

ffence'. I was angry, and I immediately published the details here including a picture of the 'offensive' joke, with the punchline restored.

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I also published the addresses of the Scottish Catholic Media Office and the Scottish Football Association and encouraged my readers to flood both with copies of this and other pope jokes. I also people to do what they could to make the 'offensive' joke go viral.

The story was picked up by Pharyngula and, the following day, by the Daily Telegraph, Britain's leading conservative newspaper, and the Scotsman, Edinburgh's - and arguably Scotland's - most respected newspaper. The Telegraph, under the headline, "Leading scientist Richard Dawkins slams Scottish Football Association over sacking of Hugh Dallas", quoted my original blog almost verbatim and offered no comment of its own. The Scotsman's report was briefer. Its headline "'Weasel' attack on Catholic spokesman in Hugh Dallas furore" is a reference to the fact that in my original blog I had called Peter Kearney a nasty little weasel. Kearney retaliated in the quote that he gave the Scotsman: "Dawkins demonstrates again that his intolerance knows no bounds."

Readers of Boing Boing may judge for themselves.

Which is the more intolerant: getting a man fired for passing on a joke, or calling somebody a nasty little weasel for doing so?

My only regret is the implied insult to weasels. Kearney cynically exploited the sectarian tensions in Glasgow to engineer that a man lost his job.

Anybody wishing to pass on a joke or other pleasantry to Peter Kearney will wish to know his address at the Scottish Catholic Media Office: mail@scmo.org.

As one commenter on my website rightly said, the Catholic church in Scotland is quick to squeal about sectarian discrimination, while doing everything to maintain it in sectarian schools.

Comments on the various websites are mostly supportive of my position. The main criticisms are

1. Hostile spamming is not a good tactic: an abuse of the power of the web, some might say. I have sympathy for this criticism. I think the tactic is defensible but only if the provocation is high. With hindsight I think that what I called the cowardice of the Scottish Football Association was not so reprehensible as the Catholic lobbying itself, and I think I should have limited the campaign to the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

2. Calling Peter Kearney a nasty little weasel is the kind of thing that gets me described as strident and shrill. It is better to stick to reasoned argument, and indeed I usually try to do so. In mitigation, once again, I plead the exceptional provocation offered by this nasty little weasel.

3. Many people wrote in from Scotland to say that I didn't appreciate the complicated socialcontext of the long-running feud between Celtic and Rangers, and the need for Scottish referees to bend over backwards to avoid sectarian bias.

It is almost as though, if a Scottish referee makes a joke about the pope, it is taken as evidence of pro-Rangers bias.

Oh please! Get your priorities right. There are more important things than football. When cardinals and popes cover up the crime of child rape, those of us who object are not being 'sectarian' or ' anti-Catholic' or pro-Glasgow-Rangers. We are being human.