'To suggest gender diversity is an antidote to child abuse is both offensive and absurd'

The head of a public body responsible for the arts in Scotland has been condemned as “poisonously anti-religious” after calling for the Church to be compelled to ordain women as priests.

Ben Thomson, who chairs Creative Scotland, said greater “gender diversity” in the Church would have helped to prevent the abuse crisis.

In a private submission to a government consultation, Thomson said: “The lack of women as part of the leadership in religion leads to wider problems in society … Most of the religions practised in the UK to some extent discriminate on the basis of gender and it is time we stopped supporting this exemption in our legislation.”

The Equality Act 2010 includes an exemption on gender discrimination for religious groups.

Thomson, who worked in financial services for 33 years before becoming chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland in 2009, said: “If there had been greater gender diversity in the Catholic Church, the extent of paedophilia by those in positions of authority within the Church would most likely not have been as widespread.”

A Church spokesman said: “Religious life is not a ‘workplace’. To suggest otherwise is to demonstrate a lamentable ignorance of religion and belief.

“To suggest gender diversity is an antidote to child abuse is both offensive and absurd … These opinions seriously call into question Mr Thomson’s judgment and cast doubt on his suitability as chair of our national arts body.”

The Scottish government is consulting on a Bill that would require men and women to be represented equally in public sector boardrooms –and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said gender equality in boardrooms is a priority.