SUNDAY: New Nativity scene for Edinburgh

Archbishop Cushley highlighted Edinburgh's new Nativity scene on BBC Radio Scotland, ahead of its unveiling on Sunday.

It is part of the city's Advent Carol Concert which begins at 2pm at the Ross Bandstand in West Princes Street Gardens.

The nativity scene is by sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand from Munich and is a partnership between Edinburgh and Munich (twin cities).

Archbishop Cushley said: "We hope it will be welcomed, but more than that, we hope it will be recognised as a gesture from the people of one European city to another.

"The birth of Jesus was greeted by angels singing 'Peace on earth and goodwill to all!'.  As we look forward to Christmas, we can pray and work for that peace to be real in the world again."

Join voices with a number of Edinburgh’s Christmas church choirs and sing along with traditional carols and hymns, backed by music from the Salvation Army Band at Sunday's event.


GALLERY: Faith and fun at our youth day!

Children enjoyed a fun and faith-filled day at our youth event at The Gillis Centre in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Thanks to all the children and parents who came along and to Fr Martin Eckersley, Fr Robert Taylor, Fr Jamie McMorrin, Sr Miriam Fidelis, Sr Paul Miriam and Archbishop Cushley for joining the fun!

COP28 UAE: Prayers and a call for action

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference begins on 30 November.

Bishop Bill Nolan, President of Justice and Peace for BCOS and Archbishop of Glasgow, has issued the following statement and prayer.

Loss and Damage: A Call to Action

"At COP26 in Glasgow, one of the biggest disappointments was the failure to agree a fund for Loss and Damages.

"Countries which are most vulnerable to climate change and yet the least responsible, need financial support from industrialised countries who were, and continue to be, responsible for gas emissions.

"A Dialogue was set-up to continue the conversation. At COP27 in Egypt no conclusion was brought to this dialogue.

"Now is the moment for world leaders to take responsibility for the damage caused by climate change especially affecting the smallest and most vulnerable countries.

"COP28 in the United Arab Emirates should not be mere talk but take decisive action to create a robust fund to aid those struggling with climate change that threatens their very existence.

"May those taking part in the Conference be strategists capable of considering the common good and the future of their children, more than the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses. In this way, may they demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame. (Laudate Deum 60)

"I pray that the hearts and consciences of all participants will be sensitive and open to the cries of the poor and weak and I entrust them to the intercession of St Andrew, our patron saint, on whose feast day COP28 will begin in Dubai.

Archbishop William Nolan,
President of Justice and Peace
Bishops’ Conference of Scotland

The Office for the Care of Creation has information on what is available in assisting the move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and what funding sources exist to support approved projects. See here.

Office For Care of Creation Overview Ahead of COP28

As we approach Pope Francis attending the next United Nations Climate Conference in the United Arab Emirates, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland would like to take this opportunity to remind dioceses and parishes about the Office for Care of Creation and how it aims to support Catholics in Scotland in working to care for our common home. The attached flyer gives an overview of the purpose of the Office along with advice for taking action. Please share it with parish or diocesan groups, particularly Justice and Peace groups, Laudato Si groups,  or SCIAF groups, or with any parishioners interested in sustainability. The flyer can also be printed and attached to notice boards but we would ask that only a minimal amount of flyers are printed and that they are otherwise shared electronically. There is also a flyer outlining some advice and tips for exploring renewable energy solutions including potential grants or funding. Our friends at Eco Congregation Scotland may be able to advise further. 

St John the Baptist Primary is top of the class!

St John The Baptist Primary School and Fauldhouse Nursery in West Lothian has received an exceptional report from Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate.

Education Scotland Inspectors awarded the highest rating of ‘excellent’ in the category 'raising attainment and achievement'.

It is very rare for a school to receive this grade as since 2017, less than 1% of primary school inspection evaluations have received an ‘excellent’.

Head Teacher Angela Gardner said: “I am incredibly proud of our school community.

"As a staff team, we work to ensure both the school and nursery settings are fun, compassionate and nurturing environments where our children can learn and grow to achieve their potential.

"Our pupils are amazing and we are delighted with their achievements.

"They really are a credit to our school, their families and the wider community.

“We will certainly take the positives from this report and reflect on what we can do to further develop our practice, ensuring that we are inspiring success for all our learners.”

Executive councillor for education, Andrew McGuire said: “I am thrilled for the pupils, staff and wider community connected to St John the Baptist.

"This report showcases the excellent work in both the school and nursery settings and I’m sure this will only inspire staff to further develop their fantastic approach to education."

Bishops meet MPs at Westminster

Scotland's Catholic Bishops joined the Moderator of the General Assembly of Church of Scotland on a joint pilgrimage to Westminster on Wednesday.

Archbishop Cushley said: "This was wonderful opportunity to meet the UK Government and our Westminster MPs to discuss matters that are important to Christians and people of Faith in Scotland, but in a UK-wide context.

"I'm especially pleased to do this in the company of Rt Rev Sally Foster Fulton and our friends from the Church of Scotland, particularly in light of the Declaration of Friendship that we signed with them last year."

Archbishop Bill Nolan (Glasgow), Bishop John Keenan (Paisley) and Joseph Toal (Motherwell) also attended.

The Church leaders met Scottish MPs, attended Prime Minister’s Questions and a reception in the House of Lords, which focused on International Aid to South Sudan.

Mass was celebrated at the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft at the Palace of Westminster.

Anthony Horan, Director of the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “This visit presents a fantastic opportunity for the bishops of Scotland to meet MPs representing Scottish constituencies, to strengthen relationships and discuss important issues.

"I am delighted that the bishops will be joined by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for much of Wednesday’s programme and that they will lead the celebration of Mass in the beautiful chapel of St Mary-Undercroft.”

Rt Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: "I am keenly aware that last week marked one year since the signing of the Saint Margaret Declaration between the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church, a landmark in the history of ecumenical relations in this country.

"The Church is committed to fostering unity, be that between faiths, denominations, or political parties, as part of our duty as Christians spreading the message of love.

"To effect positive change it is essential that leaders from diverse backgrounds come together for the common good."

Catholics urged to respond to sex education consulation

The Scottish Government has removed all reference to Catholic schools in a draft document that will be used in sex and reationships education in classrooms. 

Now Catholics are being urged to respond to a consultation to ensure their voice is heard. Respond to the consulation here (or see guidance at bottom of this article).

The guidance has created concern among denominational schools that it will undermine their ethos and autonomy despite the guidance itself stating that Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education has a central role in promoting the ethos of the school, writes The Catholic Herald.

The new guidance, which is issued under section 56 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, is designed to replace earlier guidance issued in 2014. A public consultation on the draft is due to end on 23 November 2023. See end of this article on how to respond.

Of particular concern is the removal of paragraphs 38-41 under the sub-heading “Denominational Education” which explicitly protects the rights of Catholic schools to provide sex education in line with the Catholic ethos.

Bishops' response

This omission resulted in a strong rebuke from the Scottish Bishops:

“The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland is both disappointed and confused at the decision by the Scottish Government to delete all reference to Catholic schools in its ‘Guidance on the Delivery of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) Education in Scottish Schools’ document. 

“We strongly request the re-insertion of the paragraphs relating to Denominational Education from the previous iteration of the guidance, which would reflect both the legal protection for schools with a Religious Character, and the previously supportive position of Scottish Government for Catholic schools.”

The paragraphs that are no longer reflected in the updated draft guidance are as follows:

38. In Scotland, provision is made for some publicly funded schools that are denominational in character. The majority of these schools are Roman Catholic and they are an integral part of the public education system. Denominational schools play an important part in Scottish education. The Scottish Government values this provision and is committed to maintaining it. 

39. The Scottish Government supports the right of the Roman Catholic Church to give witness to its faith, and to uphold the traditions of Catholic education. We value the contribution made by Catholic schools, and have no intention of changing the current position where faith aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools are determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service acting on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. These faith aspects relate to religious education and religious observance. 

40. In February 2011, the Scottish Government issued advice to local authorities and head teachers reiterating that the experiences and outcome for Religious Education in Roman Catholic schools should be delivered in conjunction with guidance provided by the Scottish Catholic Education Service. We have no plans to change this advice. 

41. National guidance on the curriculum is always developed on the basis of wide consultation. It is recognised that religious authorities with a role in denominational education provide guidance on RSHP education for their denominational schools and that right will continue as at present. This national guidance should be seen to be complementary to the guidance provided by the religious authority while at the same time serving as a useful basis for everyone.

The removal of these “protections” in the draft guidance creates an understandable worry among Catholics that their schools will be required to provide and promote a secularised approach to relationship and sexuality education.  

The draft new guidelines omit any reference to the existence of denominational schools, instead replacing these protections with a section on “faith and beliefs” which, rather than protecting the schools ethos, essentially places the different diverse faiths and beliefs of learners ahead of the denominational ethos of the schools:

3.8. Educational practitioners should ensure learning and teaching is planned and delivered sensitively, being respectful of the various belief and faith backgrounds present in their learning community. Knowledge and understanding about the traditions, beliefs and practices of different religions, faiths and belief groups supports children and young people to develop respect and understanding. To facilitate this, themes can be devised so individuals can interact and learn alongside those who may have different beliefs and values to them, leading potentially to increased understanding. 

3.9. Schools have a key role to play in providing an educational experience that is inclusive for all, regardless of the beliefs and values they hold. With inclusive RSHP education, children and young people, where religion and/or belief plays a role in their identities, should be able to feel included and accepted within their school and community. When children and young people can see themselves represented in what they learn, it helps them feel like they belong and that their identity is valued. This helps them to better engage with education. It also supports all children and young people to understand equalities and rights, and to recognise the impact of prejudice and stereotypes. 

This places denominational schools, where parents may have chosen on the basis of the particular ethos, in a position where they are required to abandon this ethos and become, de facto, state schools.

Additional concerns have been raised regarding the introduction of the “whole of school” approach to RSHP, which requires the ideas around LGBT inclusion be incorporated across the school curriculum, utilising academic learning to inculcate a particular ethos that is at odds with the ethos of the schools’ governing bodies.

Specifically, the guidance states:

“To enable LGBT Inclusive Education across the curriculum, there should be an emphasis on the importance of inter-disciplinary learning including but not exclusively through Expressive Arts, Languages, Literacy, Health and Well Being, Numeracy, Religious and Moral Education, Sciences and Social Studies.”

The Guidelines admit explicitly that the recommendations from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group’s report to the Scottish Ministers have been included in the draft guidance, focusing on contested areas such as terminologies (including gender identity), histories of the social rights movement, as well as the “quality of people, families and relationships”. Catholic teaching related to the primacy of the family unit, of marriage being between a man and woman, as well as the social reality that children fare better, on average, in these stable units, will struggle to find its space in such an ideologically confined space.

Further concerns exist in relation to the expectations of RSHP education, where the guidelines insert the objectives – and pressure – on teachers and learners, to contribute to reducing gender-based violence and domestic abuse while also encouraging children to reflect on the gender stereotypes that they hold as well as their unconscious biases. The former creates an unrealistic expectation on the role of schools and educators while that latter incorporates faddish ideas that are neither bounded by evidence and increasingly questioned in terms of effectiveness in addressing any practical or structural issues.

The preponderant focus on issues such as gender, gender identity, LGBT, variations in sex characteristics across the guidance, occupying half the content of the guidance, with the absence of anything that reflects a Catholic approach to relationships, sexuality and nothing about parenthood, validates the concerns that are being raised by Catholic schools and parents.

While the Scottish government claims that it has consulted with over 30 groups, including the Scottish Catholic Education Service and representatives of other major faith groups, the Herald Scotland reports that the Church described Government claims that the Scottish Catholic Education Service had been consulted as “disingenuous”. It reports a Church source stating: “A proper consultation is where the views of a participant or stakeholder are taken on board. Ours were wilfully ignored. It is striking that the term Catholic School is not used within this document and the phrase ‘denominational schools’ only once.”

The above article is from the The Catholic Herald.

How to respond

You can read the revised document here.

To respond online

To respond by post

Posted responses must reach Scottish Government by 23 November (so post by Monday 20 November).

SATURDAY: Fun and faith at our Youth Day!

A day of faith and fun for children p4-p7 takes place at The Gillis Centre in Edinburgh on Saturday 25 November.

Join us as we unpack Jesus the King of the Universe and prepare in the best way for Christmas.

We'll have games, activities, sweets as well as talks, an opportunity for confession and Holy Mass with Archbishop Cushley.

It takes place from 11:00am to 3:30pm at The Gillis Centre, 100 Strathearn Road, Edinburgh, EH9 1BB. Registration from 10:30am.

To attend, simply register your child with Fr Martin Eckersley at Please also bring along a completed consent form.

Parents/guardians are welcome to drop off kids with the completed consent form or stay and join the fun!

Gallery: St Margaret of Scotland Choral Mass and Lecture

The St Margaret of Scotland Annual Choral Mass took place at St Salvator's Chapel at the University of St Andrews on Wednesday.

Archbishop Cushley was the principal celebrant for the Mass, which commemorates the life and legacy of Queen Margaret of Scotland.

It followed the annual lecture delivered by Professor Jennifer Newsome Martin on ‘Desiring Beauty'.



Synod: Bishop Brian McGee's report

Bishop Brian McGee has shared his report from his time at the Synod in Rome last month:

It was generally agreed that the First Session of the XVI Ordinary Synod of Bishops was a very positive experience. The theme, of course, was making the Church more synodal.

Those who had attended previous Synods agreed that this one was a different and better experience.

Spiritual Focus
That the Holy Spirit must be the principal protagonist was strongly emphasised. Accordingly, we were encouraged to see the Synod as a spiritual experience and not the debating chamber of a Parliament.

Bishop Brian McGee, second left, with fellow delegates at the Synod in October.

There were frequent periods of both prayer and silence throughout each day as well as on specific occasions (e.g. the Rosary, Eucharist Adoration, Friday fasting for peace, pilgrimage to the Catacombs).

Early novel elements were the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil and the three-day Retreat, led by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP and held at the Fraterna Domus in Sacro Fano. The Retreat was warmly welcomed both for its spiritual value and for bringing us together as a group.

The Sessions

There were two sessions each day, lasting three and a half hours each (8.45am-12.30pm & 4-7.30pm). Saturday had only a morning session. The Pope attended roughly one third of the sessions.

The Assembly met in the Paul VI Aula. The seating at the front of the Aula had been removed to accommodate the roughly 450 participants (members, facilitators, theologians, support people).

Instead of sitting in rows and in hierarchical order we were assigned to Small Groups and seated at round tables.

There were 37 Small Groups which typically consisted of eleven members plus one facilitator. We changed Small Groups five times (for each Module) which enabled wider sharing of ideas.

The Groups were organised by language and previously expressed topic preferences. Hence the seating arrangements were synodal in style and popular.

The first Module studied Section A of the Instrumentum laboris which examined the characteristics of synodality. The next three Modules were from the Section B of the Instrumentum laboris - Communion, Mission and Participation.

Each of these three modules were divided into five subtopics and this is what the participants chose in advance. For example, my topic for Communion was the relationship between love and truth.

Module C worked on the Synthesis Report and advising how best to prepare for and run the Second Assembly in October 2024.

Each Module began with Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. The opening session consisted of orientation and then spiritual and theological input.

There then followed two sessions of Small Group discussion before three Plenary Sessions.

The Plenary Sessions involved both delivering every Small Group’s draft report and free interventions. Speeches could last only three minutes.

Although this could be repetitive there was a value in recognising convergences albeit fresh insights were (occasionally) heard too.

Finally the Small Groups met again to reflect on what they heard from the Plenary before adapting and completing their written submission (2 pages).

The methodology for the Small Groups was Conversation in the Spirit (CiS).

Prior personal study and prayer on the topic was expected. Each member spoke for an initial four minutes with no interruptions permitted.

There was silence after every three inputs. After everyone had spoken there was a longer pause for silence.

In the second round each participant summed up what they had heard from the other members especially focussing on what most struck them, positively or negatively. Again silence.

The third round was free interventions. The Secretary and presenter were responsible for the draft spoken report and the final written submission.

The listening and discussions were of a very high quality. There was strong convergence on most topics.

Perhaps the two most frequently expressed opinions were recognising the equal dignity of all the baptised and the need for greater formation throughout the Church: for laity, seminarians, religious, deacons, priests and bishops.

Other convergences included that the Church become more open, rediscovery of missionary fervour, co-responsibility in mission and the need for greater female participation. Making certain structures compulsory (e.g. Parish/Diocesan Pastoral Councils) to ensure growth of synodality was endorsed but the need for personal and communal conversion to synodality was deemed to be even more crucial.

That the presence of the laity, priests, deacons and fraternal (ecumenical) delegates had enriched the Synod was frequently expressed.

Finally, the renewed importance given to listening led many to wonder if a ‘ministry of listening’ ought to be recognised.

More significant challenges were around the relationship between love and truth, female diaconate and, to a much lesser extent, female priestly ordination.

That a quarter of participants with voting rights were not Bishops led to discussions about the future of the Synod of Bishops.

Should the Synod be primarily only for bishops?

Given that the new members enriched the discussion should a distinct Ecclesiastical Assembly, in addition to the Synod of Bishops, be created? Should the model used for October 23 be further developed?

If so, what should the criteria be for voting members to participate? Certainly it was recognised that the Pope has the authority to decide how a Synod is constituted. October 23 was a true Synod of Bishops.

While it was noted that worldwide many clergy - priests and bishops – had been reticent or sometimes even opposed to the synodal process they must not be demonised. Rather we must listen to them and understand their fears to help us all move forward together.

Synthesis Report

The Synthesis Report accurately reflected the Assembly in a balanced way. Every paragraph was approved. The Report is a transitory document. Next year’s Report will be more important as it will contain concrete recommendations for the Pope.

That points for consideration and/or proposals were included in the Report, but which previously were considered closed/unwelcome, symbolised the Synod’s openness. Of course, recommending further study of a particular topic does not equate with agreeing with its implementation.

Overall Impressions

As already stated, the consistent view was positive. Many bishops considered that the Synod was a genuine collegial experience. The atmosphere was very friendly.

The organisation of the Synod was impressive. The technology was excellent.

However, the Synod was intense. At times it was a challenge to listen well, especially when both sessions on a single day were purely listening to reports and free speeches.

Some thought that the Synod was too long and should be shortened. Certainly, it was a common view that there needed to be more rest periods.

The increased use of emails meant that bishops were distracted by their other duties, which was an extra burden.

Personal Reflection

On a personal level, once I found my feet, I actually enjoyed the Synod!

I did not consider that the new format restricted participation. On the contrary I made four written submissions and two spoken interventions to the Plenary.

I was also fully involved in the Small Group final submissions. I believe that the Church in Scotland and the Conference had its voice heard. I was able to express my own opinion in line with my conscience.

It is important to record that when the Synod finished I felt a deep peace. I believe that the Spirit was at work, not least in the broadening of minds and hearts, including how we treated each other.

The prevalence of openness and discernment must continue. Although the bigger decisions will be made next October there was nothing resembling the divisions and polarisation many predicted. I think that Pope Francis’ trust in the Holy Spirit is genuinely deep and his example an invitation for us all.

Thoughts for Consideration in Preparation for October 2024

+Brian McGee

World Day of the Poor

In Pope Francis' message for the annual World Day of the Poor, he calls every Christian to become “personally involved” in the struggle against poverty. Read the message.

In our Archdiocese, parishes are encourage to have a special Collection for the World Day for the Poor, which is optional, and will take place in parishes on Sunday 19 November.

Monies received will go to the Fife Furniture Project, which is run by volunteers the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

It has helped hundreds of people across the Archdiocese, many in desperate situations, by providing basic furniture and white goods for tenants.