Church of Scotland General Assembly 2022: Official apology for church's role in persecution of those accused of witchcraft

The Kirk has officially apologised for the Church of Scotland’s part in the persecution of those accused of witchcraft.

The General Assembly agreed to “acknowledge and regret the terrible harm caused to all those who suffered from accusations and prosecutions under Scotland's historic witchcraft rules, the majority of them women, and apologise for the role of the Church of Scotland in such historical persecution”.

It follows a formal apology issued by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on International Women's Day on behalf of the Scottish Government to those people, mostly women, convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.

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A report to the Assembly acknowledged the church had often played a part in feeding the fury around witchcraft.

Proposing the apology, the Rev Prof Susan Hardman Moore, principal of Edinburgh’s New College, said apologising for historic wrongs was not about shouldering personal blame for actions long ago, nor mis-applying today's standards to people in the past, but “standing in solidarity with the innocents who suffered, acknowledging and regretting the harm caused to them by the actions of the church and setting the record straight by affirming the dignity of the people our forerunners wrote off”.

And she said it could also be a step towards reconciliation with those who were alienated from the church now by what the church had done in the past.

She also drew attention to a TV programme on witchhunts which focused on the case of Agnes Sampson of East Lothian, “healer, midwife, wise woman to her community” who was burned at the stake on Castle Hill, less than 100 yards from the Assembly Hall in 1591.

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The General Assembly agreed to apologise for the role of the church in persecuting those accused of witchcraft.
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