Nowadays, 5th November is about eating marshmallows and hot chestnuts. And yet a certain anti-Catholic prejudice lingers in Britainby Catherine Pepinster / October 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
This 5th November, as always, the streets of Lewes, East Sussex, will be filled with thousands of people watching the town’s bonfire societies burn effigies of the Pope and march with burning crosses. It’s the largest bonfire event in Britain’s commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes and his Catholic co-conspirators were foiled in their attempt to blow James I and parliament to smithereens. In other towns, those attending Guy Fawkes Night may not know why the candles are Roman and the wheels are called Catherine, mocking the Catholic saint martyred by being strapped on such a device. Nowadays municipal displays are about eating marshmallows and hot chestnuts, or banishing the darkness of the imminent winter with light and colour.
And yet a certain anti-Catholic prejudice lingers. Take a recent example from this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool. Andy Kerr, a Scottish party official who sits on the national executive committee, was chairing a session when he joked that he might not call a delegate to ask a question after spotting her making the sign of the cross. The incident was quickly noticed by British Catholics, and Kerr had to apologise. The location was pertinent given Liverpool’s past: Catholic children in the city used to be stoned on their way to school. And in Scotland, Kerr’s home nation, similar sectarianism has poisoned matches between Glasgow Rangers, the Protestant, unionist football club, and Celtic, founded by a priest in an effort to help Irish Catholics battle bigotry.
That anti-Catholic prejudice may be low-profile in Britain compared to, say, the inflammatory question of anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, or the abuse many Muslim women suffer for wearing the hijab. But it is there nevertheless, in the times people are told not to wear a cross at work, and in liberal hostility to the Catholic belief that abortion is immoral.
This prejudice can be traced to Henry VIII’s break with Rome over its opposition to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It continued throughout the Tudor era, bar the brief interlude of Mary I, who sought to restore the old religion. Executing people for their faith was popular with all Tudor monarchs but Protestant propagandists ensured it was the Catholic queen who was forever known as Bloody…