Leader of `Wee Frees' dies

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Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, the "Wee Frees", has died. The Rev Murdo Macleod, 60, was minister of the church in Stornoway, which, with 1,000 members, claimed to be the largest Calvinist congregation in Scotland.

The "Wee Frees", who split from the Church of Scotland in 1843 over the state appointment of ministers, are not as rabidly anti-Catholic as the "Wee Wee Frees", the sect from which the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was expelled after he attended a colleague's funeral mass.

As Moderator of this year's Assembly, Mr Macleod had to deal with the embarrassment of a visit by Cardinal Winning, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, who accompanied the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, paying his annual ceremonial visit. The Cardinal had earlier pleaded the cause of ecumenism at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and been denounced by Mr Macleod. "It is shocking and appalling and a sad day for Scotland when a Roman Catholic Cardinal is invited to address the national church," he said, before realising that the Cardinal had been smuggled into his own Assembly.

Mr Macleod was praised yesterday for his tactful handling of a long-running inquiry into allegations of sexual impropriety against one of the Wee Frees' leading theologians, who was eventually cleared. The Rev Iver Martin, assistant minister, described Mr Macleod as one of the few "leadership" figures in the church.