A culture of fear in Scotland discourages people from speaking openly about their faith, the head of a bishops’ conference agency has said.

Anthony Horan, director of the bishops’ Catholic Parliamentary Office, told a committee at the Scottish Parliament: “My overriding concern is the culture of fear that runs right through society and which makes people feel at best uncomfortable and at worst totally frightened to be open about their faith.”

Mr Horan was speaking to MSPs on the equalities and human rights committee on the subject of bullying and harassment at schools and religious prejudice.

He said he had passed on testimonies of “a number of young people who had experienced anti-Catholic prejudice in their school, most of it relating to the Church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. One student even dropped a subject to ‘avoid the harassment’.”

He pointed out that in Scotland the majority of religiously aggravated crime was committed against Catholics and that criminal charges were “at an all-time high”.

“A deeply worrying and disturbing 57 per cent of charges are as a result of anti-Catholic behaviour. Compare this to the percentage of charges relating to Protestantism (27 per cent) and Islam (17 per cent) and we are left with an undoubted sectarian problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.

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