David Henderson reports from the Catholic heads' conference in Crieff.
THE LEADER of Scotland's Roman Catholic community says it is "81 years too late" to suggest that Catholics make a financial contribution of up to 15 per cent for separate schooling.
Cardinal Thomas Winning said Catholics should not be penalised for the privilege of educating their families in accordance with their conscience and should not be asked to pay twice, once through taxes and again through a levy.
"It would be the ultimate irony if a devolved parliament were to vote away some of the distinctive features of the Scottish educational system for the sake of greater harmony with England and Wales," Cardinal Winning said. "Where is the equality in this idea? Where is the respect for pluralism in such a proposal?" He feared critics would deploy economic arguments and not allegations of sectarianism to challenge Catholic schools. Such opponents were "small in number and increasingly isolated", but "we cannot afford to drop our guard".
Cardinal Winning was responding to Professor Lindsay Paterson who called on Catholic schools to "rethink their role and legitimacy fundamentally" and urged debate in the parliament.
Professor Paterson said Scotland might emulate the Danish model of encouraging diversity by supporting voluntary schools where the state pays for 85 per cent of costs. "Put crudely," he declared, "why should atheists or Muslims or Hindus or Jews or Protestants subsidise Catholic cultural institutions when the state does not subsidise theirs?" He added: "If Catholics want to maintain a separate way of life, the argument would go, then fine - that's their right. But require them to pay for the privilege of having schools which promote it, especially now that, during three-quarters of a century, the state has paid for schools that have allowed the Catholic community to achieve unprecedented levels of prosperity and political influence."