Monday, June 7, 2010
Being English = Being Anti-Catholic?
The Catholic Herald has an editorial today about the history of anti-catholicism and anti-papalism in England, which bears out Owen Chadwick's comment in the Penguin history of the Reformation, "Suspicion of Rome became almost a part of the national character, a part of patriotism, a part of the Englishness of a man":
At the very centre of the national psyche there seems to be a basic suspicion of Catholicism which can be difficult to pinpoint: but it has certainly reared its head recently. The front cover of Private Eye with Pope Benedict on the balcony and the crowd in St Peter’s Square supplying the crude – but hardly unforeseeable – punchline may have shocked some and offended others, but it certainly should not have surprised anyone, as it belongs to a great tradition of English anti-Catholic satire: a tradition which has its roots in the dark days of the penal laws, and its high-water mark in the decades which followed emancipation.
During the penal era, anti-Catholicism was, of course, government policy. It has been argued that the excommunication of Elizabeth in 1570 provided the ideal opportunity for the Cecil administration to implement its abiding achievement: the propagation of the idea it was impossible to be a Catholic and a good Englishman. Against the historical backdrop of Armada, Gunpowder Plot, Civil War, the flight of James II, Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745, and almost constant war with France, it is easy to see how anti-Catholic feeling was easily sustained in the nation's consciousness.
Rome’s disassociation from the Jacobite cause in 1766 paved the way for the Catholic Relief legislation of the late 1770s, which in 1780 set off rioting in London: and while it is unlikely that more than a handful of the mob cared one way or the other for the Pope, they still rallied to the cry of “no Popery!”
In that context, vehement anti-Catholicism was found in both the mainstream press and satirical journals. Rome was Babylon, and the Pope its Whore: he was the Scarlet Lady, the Antichrist, whose followers were enslaved in his service, and who would cheerfully murder all good Protestants in their beds, given the chance.
The author, Serenhedd James, goes on to discuss the violent reaction of the English press to the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850 and the slight abatement of anti-catholicism in the last century or so. The editorial cartoons he describes sound just like some of those printed during the Know Nothing period in the United States by Thomas Nast (above).
James concludes by noting that the common Englishman does not believe that when Pope Benedict XVI visits Scotland and England this September he will dissolve Parliament, force Queen Elizabeth II to submit to his authority and establish the Inquisition throughout the British Isles, but he still distrusts Catholicism and the pope.
Of course, people can disagree with the Church because of our teachings: for Anglican or Protestant believers that can be a source of dislike and contempt. People can also distrust the Church because of the scandal our sins can cause; but anti-catholicism is also a prejudice that goes beyond reason or contempt to hatred and bigotry.