Scottish referee crisis: Catholic Church demands head of Hugh Dallas over offensive e-mail about Pope
THE controversy over the impartiality of referees has taken a new twist after the Catholic Church in Scotland waded into the row over allegations that former top match official Hugh Dallas sent an offensive e-mail about the Pope.
The e-mail is thought to have been sent on the day of the Pope's visit in late September and to have included a graphic of the "Children Crossing" road sign, which depicts an adult and child holding hands, altered to include the words "Warning - the Pope is coming".
Church leaders are demanding the Scottish Football Association speeds up its internal investigation into the matter. In a letter to SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, the Church called for Mr Dallas, the head of referee development, to be removed from his post if the e-mail - which alluded to child abuse within the Catholic Church - was proved to have been sent by Mr Dallas from his SFA account.
The incident is the latest blow to the SFA, which is in danger of having to cancel this weekend's matches after referees called a strike amid claims they are facing abuse from club managers.
• In full: The letter sent by the Catholic Church in Scotland to SFA chief executive Stewart Regan
In the letter, Catholic Church spokesman Peter Kearney wrote: "(Mr Dallas] has been accused of sending an email from his SFA email account on the day of the Pope's visit to Scotland, which was totally unprofessional, gratuitously insulting to the Pope, deeply offensive to the Catholic community of Scotland, and an incitement to anti-Catholic sectarianism."
Mr Kearney said the results of the investigation should be made public, adding: "You will no doubt be well aware of the matter and I do appreciate it is one which is rightly the responsibility of the SFA … However in view of the alleged content of the email it is clearly a matter of some concern to the Catholic Church in Scotland."
Mr Kearney said the Church had hoped to leave the SFA to deal with the incident - but that the body had not acted quickly enough. "We have not got involved in the past, and when this emerged some weeks ago, it seemed reasonable to give the SFA some time and space to deal with the matter," he said.
"But now, two months from when the e-mail was sent, it seems reasonable for us to say two things to the SFA. One, that this is a matter of urgency, and two, that it is a matter of transparency.
"We want to know - was this e-mail the one that was sent and was it sent by a senior official? In the event that it was, then I think the SFA needs to act very firmly to preserve their credibility."
A Church spokesman insisted the timing of the letter was not linked to the furore over the referees' threatened strike. He said: "That is a footballing matter and footballing people can deal with it. But this incident pertains to the Church. It is a religious matter, not just a footballing one."
It is thought that the SFA - which announced two weeks ago that it was conducting an internal investigation into the incident - could announce the result of the inquiry later today. A number of individuals who received the e-mail are expected to be interviewed by officials from the SFA.
Mr Dallas, who refereed in the Scottish Premier League and officiated at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, was made an MBE for services to football.
A spokeswoman for the SFA said: "We do not have anything to say about this at the moment. It is an internal investigation and we will not be making any further comment at this time."
The SFA has this week been locked in talks with representatives of the country's top referees in a bid to stave off the strike action, which is due to blight Scottish football this weekend.
If the talks are not successful, the SFA has said that it will look elsewhere for replacement referees.
But referees from Iceland, Norway and Wales have all indicated that they would not cross any picket line and step in to help out.
Sigurdur Thorleifsson, head of the referees' union in Iceland, had initially given his approval to the idea following a request from the SFA, but the referees themselves unanimously voted against it.
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