EDINBURGH, Scotland - For the first time in its history, the officially established Church of Scotland admitted Wednesday that it had been guilty of religious bigotry, particularly against Irish Catholics.
Delegates at the church's annual general assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion stating that the church "regrets any part played in sectarianism by our church in the past and affirm our support for future moves towards a more tolerant society."
The motion acknowledged that it was time to "consign bigotry to the history books, where it belongs", said the Rev. Alan McDonald, convener of a church committee that assesses church-state relations.
"We have to face up to the ugly side of Scotland today. The hard end of sectarianism is that people can die on our streets as a result," he told 800 general assembly delegates at the Mound in Edinburgh.
Scotland's officially established church is Presbyterian, and the monarch and the government have no role in its affairs, as they do in the Church of England. The Anglican church is the official church for England.
McDonald read an excerpt from a church report presented to the general assembly in 1923, entitled "The menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality."
"It accused the Irish Roman Catholic population of taking employment from native Scots, of being part of a papist conspiracy to subvert Presbyterian values and of being the principal cause of drunkenness, crime and financial imprudence," McDonald said.
"It suggested the control of immigration from the Irish (Republic), deportation and preference being given to native-born Scots in public works because 'Scotland is over-gorged with Irishmen'."
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Scotland, the Most Rev. Keith O'Brien, said it was vital to "erase every trace of sectarianism from Scotland. It is the scourge which blights the horizon of our young people."
But outside the meeting, several dozen protesters blamed Roman Catholics for sectarianism.
"The Catholic Church believes it is the only true church and sees everyone else as an ecclesiastic side show," said the Rev. Jack Glass, the leader of the Scottish Reformation Movement, organizers of the demonstration.
"It backs Catholic-only education and is opposed to mixed schools. And it insists that children from mixed marriages must be brought up as Catholics."