A new opinion poll suggests that the majority of Scots are not ill-disposed towards the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI, despite disagreements about his views - with the majority being "neither for nor against".
The Opinion Business Research poll, which was commissioned by the Scottish Catholic Media Office, found that 31 per cent of respondents were "very or fairly favourable" to the papal visit, while 63 per cent were neither in favour nor opposed.
Those opposed comprised a smaller than expected minority, with three per cent objecting and just two per cent "strongly" objecting.
Commentators say that the results are encouraging in respect of the continuing diminution of the religious sectarianism which has in the past marked many areas of Scottish life, not least in Glasgow.
Scotland on Sunday newspaper commented: "When historical antipathies were still mainstream opinion in this country, the results would have been very different. Even 15 years ago, opposition would have been significantly greater."
It continued: "That is not to gloss over the fact that five per cent of objectors represents a quarter of a million people in a population of just over 5 million. It would be wrong, however, to make assumptions about their motives... Although the poll did not explore the opinions of those opposing the visit, a reasonable supposition would be that many are motivated by their opposition to the Pope's unyielding line on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Or the Church's conduct over recent child abuse accusations. Or simply because they are secularists who question the Catholic Church's status and influence. These are legitimate points of view, and critics of the Catholic Church have a right to use the visit to give voice to their opinions.
"Even among these groups, however, proactive opposition to the visit seems limited. An organisation called Protest the Pope has now abandoned plans to demonstrate in Scotland, though it intends to hold a march in London."
The paper added: "Tiresome bleating does no-one any good, and makes us all appear petty and small-minded."
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia commented: "The latest polling evidence indicates that a majority of the public, in Scotland at least, have a pragmatic approach to the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI. There is unease in many quarters, not least committedly Christian ones, about some of his views. But most people are neither uncritically adulatory nor bitterly antagonistic. They want conversation not confrontation, and will judge the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on his words and actions, not on the ceaseless pro- and anti- propaganda that has surrounded preparations for the visit."
Meanwhile, a new network entitled Catholic Voices for Reform is being launched to bring together those within the Church who favour a more open and receptive spirit, which they see as central to the Catholic tradition, as distinct from the 'traditionalists' who oppose change.
Those proposing reform - including a change in the Church's opposition to birth control, acceptance of women's ministry, a renewal of institutional structures and lay participation, and a welcoming stance towards lesbian and gay Catholics, will offer contrasting views to some of the official 'Catholic Voices' - the established group which has recruited and trained 20 media-friendly spokespeople to defend existing church positions before and during the Pope's September tour.
The network Catholic Women's Ordination (www.catholic-womens-ordination.org.uk/) has played a leading role in the new network.
Ekklesia's Simon Barrow said: "It is especially important that we hear from a diversity of voices within the Catholic community itself during the papal visit. A great number of ordinary Catholics wish to see genuine change and openness within the Church, based on historic Christian commitments. But their views and example can easily be lost amid what appears to be a war of political position between noisy advocates and angry critics of the current pontiff."
He added: "Perhaps the biggest signal in the Opinion Business Research poll is that in an increasingly post-Christendom context, most people do not have strong views one way or the other, at least in terms of the way the issues surrounding the papal visit are presently being presented. This indicates that the competing passions of both ideological religionists and ideological secularists are missing the public mood to a significant extent."