Roman Catholic Archbishop Keith O’Brien’s comment on the death of Cardinal Thomas Winning was that “for Scotland’s Catholics, and indeed for Scotland’s Christians, he was simply ‘our cardinal’ . . . a giant among church leaders and in many ways the voice of Christianity in Scotland”. The Cardinal’s funeral was described as Scotland bidding him farewell. The Westminster and Scottish Parliaments, the various political parties and the larger “Protestant churches” were represented at the requiem mass. The Scottish First Minister described the Cardinal as “a giant of the Church, who loved his country and made a huge contribution to the great moral debates of the day. We are all the poorer for his passing.” The Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, took the opportunity of his visit to the Scottish Parliament to express his “sympathy to the Scottish nation on their loss”.
Thomas Winning, as Archbishop and Cardinal, raised the profile of Roman Catholicism in Scotland. He was described by Bishop Devine as “ever the Church’s man . . . . There was only ever one ambition in the life of Thomas Winning, to serve God in the priesthood of the Catholic Church”. In pursuit of this ambition he cultivated the media and the ecumenically-minded Churches.
Among the public expressions of what Professor S J Brown of New College, Edinburgh, sees as “improved relations” between Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, he notes the reception given to Cardinal Winning by the 1975 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, whose Moderator told him: “You have won our hearts”. (1) Professor Brown sees the 1982 meeting of the Church of Scotland Moderator with the Pope in the quadrangle of New College, under the statue of John Knox (during a visit for which Winning received much credit), as “a public acknowledgment on the part of the Church of Scotland that the Catholic Church was a Christian society deserving of respect, that it was a major part of Scottish national life, and that it was in Scotland to stay. The time when the Presbyterian Church of Scotland claimed to exercise authority over the moral and religious life of the Scottish people had now passed, along with the idea of Scotland as a covenanted Protestant nation.”
Professor Brown naively expresses the view that the Roman leaders in 1982 were not interested in seeking dominance in Scotland, taking at face value the negative response Cardinal Gray gave when asked “if recent events did not mean that the Catholic Church was poised to assume the ecclesiastical ascendancy in Scotland”. The strategy of Romanism is long-term and subtle. It is ever ready to adapt in whatever way will further its own ends while retaining those doctrines and practices which distinguish it from Christianity. The widely-reported funeral of the Cardinal combined an attempt at popular appeal with the presentation of Romanist beliefs regarding the mass, Mary, and intercession for and by the dead, as if they were unquestionably Christian.
In addition to his “Scottish”, “man-of-the-people” and “media-friendly” images, Winning gained a reputation as “the champion of a higher morality”. Allan Massie, who thus describes him (2), claims that in the last 20 or 30 years the voice of the Church of Scotland “has lost its assurance, and so anyone looking for guidance of a traditional Christian form in any moral question was more likely to find it expressed by the bishops of the Church of Rome, and recently, clearly and firmly, by Cardinal Winning . . . . It was Cardinal Winning who articulated opposition to the do-as-you-please-as-long-as-it-doesn’t-hurt-others new morality”. David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative leader, described Winning as “a great moral leader, and a staunch advocate of the values and principles which should underpin our society”.
In the book noted above, Professor S J Brown focuses on “the responses of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to the challenge posed by an increasingly confident Catholic community in Scotland”. It is a sign of the declension in Scottish Presbyterianism and the success of Romanist propaganda that the “vital issues” on which Professor Brown sees “significant differences between Presbyterians and Catholics” are such matters as “abortion and homosexuality”. The doctrines and principles of Protestantism delivered this nation from the ignorance and immorality into which it had sunk under Romanism in the Middle Ages, and the subversion of these doctrines and principles has undermined the morality of this nation in modern times.
It is a reflection of the state of the Scottish Churches and of society, but also of the influence of Romanism in the media, that Romanist clerics are seen as spokesmen for Christianity and guardians of public morality. The Herald of 26 June 2001 notes that “one of the phenomena about Cardinal Winning’s death has been the enormously positive media coverage, which academics have pointed out is extraordinary in what is predominantly a Protestant country. They suggest that the cardinal’s populist touch, his frequent dabbling in politics and his hard-line views on moral issues – the collection at the funeral was for Pro-Life – allowed him to evolve into one of the big hitters in Scottish public life . . . a man who . . . did speak out and gave his community a voice.” Bishop Devine said at the funeral: “The media always knew that he would come up with a different comment from the run-of-the-mill answers that would never make a headline. He was ever good copy and he knew it.” Political leaders who enthuse over the contribution made to the moral debate by Cardinal Winning (with an eye to the hoped-for political support of Romanist constituents) ignore representations on religion and morality from those churches which adhere to the Christianity of the Bible and to the Protestant constitution of this nation, however well-reasoned and substantiated these representations are.
Far from regarding advocates of Romanism as the voice of Christianity, Principal William Cunningham maintained that “not only are there abundant materials in the Word of God for establishing the erroneous and dangerous character of its tenets individually, but the system as a whole is there delineated so fully and plainly that it seems scarcely possible to mistake it. It is predicted as a great apostasy from the true faith, which was to prevail extensively in the professing Church and to be attended with the most injurious consequences. It is expressly ascribed to the peculiar agency of Satan, and indeed the very reason why it forms the subject of so many of the predictions of the New Testament is because it was Satan’s great scheme for frustrating the leading objects of Christianity – for depriving men of the important advantages connected both with this world and the next which the preaching of the gospel was intended to convey; and was to be very successful in effecting these ends”.
It is a fact that even the orthodox doctrines professed by Rome are vitiated by the falsehoods combined with them. The tendencies of Romanism with regard to morality must be judged by the societies in which they have been able to work themselves out fully. It is indeed a judgement upon our nation that the enslaving system from which we were delivered by the Word of God and the blood of the martyrs is now regarded as “the voice of Christianity”. For the sake of our nation and of precious souls held in bondage to a soul-destroying system we must continue to affirm the doctrines of the Bible, which alone promote true holiness, and to expose those fundamental errors of Romanism which identify it as Antichristian. Articles in the Free Presbyterian Magazine and sections of the annual Religion and Morals Report are intended to help readers in this respect.
1. “Presbyterians and Catholics in Twentieth-Century Scotland” in Scottish Christianity in the Modern World.
2. The Scotsman, 19 June, 2001.