Papal honour for former Kirk Moderator Sheilagh Kesting

Archbishop Cushley presents award to Dr Kesting Image copyright Church of Scotland
Image caption Dr Kesting is only the second non-Catholic woman in the UK to receive the honour

A leading Church of Scotland minister has been awarded one of the highest honours of the Roman Catholic church.

Former Moderator Dr Sheilagh Kesting, received the award in recognition of her work to improve relations between the two churches.

Dr Kesting, was invested as a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great, only the second time it has been awarded to a non-Catholic in the UK.

The award was granted personally by Pope Francis.

Before becoming Moderator of the Kirk's General Assembly in 2007, Dr Kesting worked for 23 years as its Ecumenical Officer.


She said when she received the award at a private dinner given by the Archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, to celebrate her retirement from the ministry, she was initially speechless.

"I am delighted that the relationship between our two churches has become strong enough that this kind of acknowledgement can be given from one to the other, and it means so much that it comes from Pope Francis," she said.

"We have been watching this new Pope with tremendous interest and excitement about the things that he is saying and the encouragement that he is giving to ecumenical relations.

"So to have this honour from Pope Francis just adds to its significance. It is wonderful."

Presenting her with the award, Archbishop Cushley said: "A few months ago when we learned of your retirement we thought we ought to mark it and we thought this would be a nice thing to do.

"So we wrote to the Pope and we asked him if we could have a papal decoration for you and he said yes. So this is from Pope Francis and it is a declaration making you a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great."

He added: "We thank you for all you have done to promote better relations among the churches, especially with ourselves."

Image copyright Church of Scotland
Image caption Order of St Gregory the Great

David Waterton-Anderson of the UK Association of Papal Honours said the Order of St Gregory was not a political award.

He said: "It is a very, very high honour and a very rare thing for a non-Catholic to receive the Order of St Gregory the Great.

"And this honour is something she can be really proud of because it is not political, but only given for good works."

Established in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI, it is given to recipients "in recognition of their personal service to the Holy See and to the Roman Catholic Church, through their unusual labours, their support of the Holy See, and their excellent examples set forth in their communities and their countries".

It is thought Lady Hazel Sternberg, who died in 2014, is the only other non-Catholic woman in the UK to have been invested as a Dame of the Order of St Gregory.