The Pope’s visit shows that modern Britain remains gripped by its old anti-Catholic hatreds
Virulent anti-Catholicism is alive and well in modern Britain. It is particularly interesting to watch this spectacle of hatred from the neighbouring island to the west - one which has felt first-hand the depth of British hatred of Catholicism for many centuries.
There was rabid anti-Catholicism in Cromwell’s massacres of thousands of innocent Irish people in the 1600s. There was anti-Catholicism in the British authorities who subjected millions of Irish to dispossession, death, disease and oppression in their own country throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
There was anti-Catholicism in the British troops who fired over the head of my grandmother when, as 6-year-old, she hid from them in the hedgerows on her way to school. It seethed in the British soldiers who burned my home city of Cork to the ground in 1920. More recently, it lurked in the Paratroopers who shot dead 13 innocent Catholic civil rights marchers in Derry in 1972.
For a while it seemed that this old hostility had expired, but the shrieking intensity of anti-Catholic hatred in recent months has shown that it was merely resting.
Its resurgence has troubled even prominent UK-based atheists like Padraig Reidy, who recently wrote in the Observer that “Catholicism is viewed with suspicion by significant sections of the British left” and traces the present vitriol back to these ancient hatreds.
Brendan O’Neill of Spiked, says “the campaigning against [the pope’s] visit has become so shrill that soon only dogs will be able to hear it. And the great irony of this allegedly rationalist protest against the pope is that it is indulging in precisely the kind of demonology that the Catholic Church once excelled at. Campaigners have turned Benedict into a Satan for secularists, an Antichrist for atheists, against whom they desperately hope to define and advertise their own moral integrity.
Indeed, I cannot think of an instance in modern European history where any nation was so convulsed by vitriolic hatred of a particular religion since the Nuremburg Rallies, which themselves have recently featured nightly on the BBC: no news item on the pope is complete without a sinister soundtrack and archive footage of goose-stepping Nazis. Yet this hatred comes not from the old establishment right. It is primarily from the left.
Much of it stems from plain cowardice: The fact is that radical Islam, not Catholicism, is the big religious problem that British society faces, but most commentators are afraid of their lives, quite literally, to speak out against its tenets; and so they treat the Catholic Church as a punch bag for their repressed hostility to Islam. This was made clear in Polly Toynbee’s recent column for the Guardian where she bizarrely conflated Catholicism and Islam. Hence too Richard Dawkins’ comment that Catholicism is the world’s “second most evil religion.”
The pope is expected to praise Britain’s record of tolerance, yet as The Irish Times noted this morning: “in practice, that has been extended to Catholics only in the last century and a half.”
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