MEMBERS of the Orange Order in Scotland will be allowed to enter Catholic churches for the first time after a ban on the practice was lifted by the organisation.

Since its beginnings, those within The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland have been prohibited from entering the religious buildings.

However, within the past few weeks a decision has been taken by the organisation's leadership to remove this rule.

The move has been welcomed by anti-sectarian campaigners, who say this is a "big step" by the Grand Lodge.

Dave Scott, director of Nil By Mouth, said: "This is a highly significant move by the order.

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"I know from our work that the ban could cause a lot of tensions within families and friendships so the fact it is being lifted is both welcome and positive.

"It also recognises the realities of our day to day lives in Scotland were people marry and build relationships across old religious and cultural boundaries.

"It’s important that we recognise this is a big step for those involved in the Order to take and we should welcome it as a constructive measure toward improving relationships between faith and cultural groups in Scotland."

The Protestant fraternity, which was formed in 1798, are an extremely private group and are often reluctant to discuss internal affairs.

This issue has long been a point of debate within the Orange Order, with Grand Lodges in other parts of the world already lifting the ban.

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The rule has previously prevented orangemen and women from attending funerals, weddings, and other events held within Roman Catholic chapels.

A change to this was reportedly ratified at a Grand Lodge meeting in February, and has now been communicated with the wider membership.

Grand Master of the Orange Order in Scotland, Jim McHarg, was reportedly at lodge meetings to discuss the move.

A member of a Glasgow lodge, who wished to remain anonymous, said the decision was shared with lodges last week to a mixed response.

He added: "The change was rushed through two months ago. Some of the membership are up in arms.

"There was an argument about it and it could have a drastic affect on the organisation.

"I fully support the move - we are all one society now."

Dr Michael Rosie, a sociologist at the University of Edinburgh, has said he is surprised by the move.

However, he believes the change will have little impact on the order's membership numbers.

He said: "From what I understand there is a strong majority who said it was time for the ban to go.

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"I thought it would take a generational change but clearly this has already happened.

"It is getting rid of a rule which people were not comfortable with, an anti-Catholic message instead of a pro-Protestant one.

"There will be many members, perhaps the more traditional, who will not be comfortable. But nothing suggests it will be a major risk to the organisation.

"I think it is a good move, a sensible move, but there will be traditionalists who will remain suspicious."

The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland declined to comment.

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