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There’s nothing new about anti-Catholic bigotry

Just as in the past, anti-Catholic prejudice does have something on which to feast.

The Great Fire of London, depicted by an unknown painter, as it would have appeared from the vicinity of Tower Wharf on the evening of September 4, 1666. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“And this is The Monument.” The group stops to look up at the golden glittering depiction of flames at the top of a column on a cobbled street. London has a vast number of monuments – the Duke of Wellington with his victory arch at Hyde Park Corner, Nelson on his column in Trafalgar Square, that great memorial to Queen Victoria outside Buckingham Palace…but there is only one that is simply The Monument. It is the great column – well, great in its day, but dwarfed now by the vast soaring office-blocks all around – that commemorates the Great Fire of 1666.

“In sixteen hundred and sixty-six, London burned like rotten sticks.” Children, even in this age when they are taught little or no history, still learn that rhyme. And, as a leader of regular Catholic History Walks around London, I repeat it often enough, to sagely nodding heads as we gather at The Monument’s base, just near London Bridge and a few yards from the Thames.

What my groups learn, however, that many others do not, is that shortly after The Monument was first erected, wording was added suggesting that the Fire had been started by Catholics: “but evil Popery, which wrought such horrors, remains unchecked.” The claim was, of course, complete drivel. London’s Catholics – even if arson were not the serious sin that it most certainly is – had no interest in starting a fire. Like other Londoners, they loved their city: their home, the centre of their country’s trade and prosperity, a great city of a great nation, a source of pride. The fire started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane, spread quickly because of the daft but cheap custom of using hollowed-out tree trunks as chimneys, and raced through the narrow streets swooping up homes and shops, beautiful old churches, grimy alleyways, plus carts and clutter and litter on its way. It raged for days, and when it finally came under control – belatedly, thanks to inadequate pumps and fire-fighting equipment – it had destroyed many of the cramped, unhealthy, crowded houses that had enabled the plague of the previous year to take so many lives. New buildings, notably the fine churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, arose over the ruins.

What has all this to do with today? Only that prejudice and mob-opinion have long been the stuff of people’s lives. Lots of people probably did believe that Catholics went around burning down cities. After all, they were just evil people, weren’t they? With priests in funny robes doing odd ceremonies. You couldn’t trust ’em.

That unjust inscription was finally removed from The Monument when the tides of history swept it away. In the 18th century the (aptly named!) Catholic poet Alexander Pope had written of The Monument that it “lifts up its head and lies.” By the 19th century, although anti-Catholic prejudice remained strong in many quarters, Cardinal Manning had become a national hero for his concern for the poor and his settlement of the London dock strike, and Cardinal John Henry Newman’s hymns were sung widely in churches across the country while his Dream of Gerontious and Apologia Pro Vita Sua were among the most widely-read religious works of the day. People were appalled that, a couple of centuries before, men had been tortured and executed simply for being Catholic priests.

Just as in the past, anti-Catholic prejudice does have something on which to feast. In the tumultuous years of the Reformation, there really were people, including simple-minded and confused folk, burned alive in Smithfield under Catholic rule for being heretics, and attempts to justify this don’t really work. (“They didn’t burn that many Protestants” can sound uncomfortably like “Only a small number of priests have abused children”).

Today? As I write this, we face new examples of mob hatred and prejudice. In Australia numbers of people probably do believe that an innocent cardinal really has committed vile crimes. Those who shouted and cursed him as he left the court will be relishing ongoing snide jokes and crude conversations. “Catholic priests – you can’t trust ‘em.”

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About Joanna Bogle 59 Articles
Joanna Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom.


  1. “Maybe when enough governments have given it the Spanish “Red Terror” treatment, the filth will have been wiped away and Catholics can start fresh again.”

    The failed pronunciamiento of 1936 set loose a violent onslaught on those that revolutionaries in the Republican zone identified as enemies; “where the rebellion failed, for several months afterwards merely to be identified as a priest, a religious or simply a militant Christian or member of some apostolic or pious organization, was enough for a person to be executed without trial”.

    “Estimates of the number of religious men killed vary greatly. One estimate is that of the 30,000 priests and monks in Spain in 1936, 13% of the secular priests and 23% of the monks were killed, amounting to 6800 religious personnel altogether.[7][55] Some 283 women religious were killed, some of them badly tortured.”

    You are advocating for mass murder. I do not know how you can live with yourself.

  2. “…even in this age when they are taught little or no history…”

    As a Catholic, as a Viet-Nam veteran, as one who is “male, pale, and stale,” and as a teacher I am certainly aware of stereotypes and bigotry. I hope I believe I do not indulge it myself, and I hope and believe the writer is not indulging it here.

  3. Little more than a decade after the 1666 London fire, there came England’s so-called “Popish Plot” of 1678-1681, whereby the loathsome Titus Oates (aided by stooges such as William Bedloe) sent innocent Catholics to the scaffold because he lied, and lied, and lied. As with Cardinal Pell now, so with those Catholics then: the evidence against them should have been insufficient to convict a cockroach.

    When Bedloe breathed his last in mid-Plot, a witty anonymous poet observed:

    The Lord is pleased when man has ceased to sin;
    The Devil’s pleased when he a soul doth win;
    The world is pleased whenever a rascal dies;
    So all are pleased. For here Will Bedloe lies.

    Today, of course, Titus Oates’ spiritual descendants are alive and well. But unlike their ancestor, they have wiped their noses and gone upmarket, acquiring computers, university “education”, blogs, and Facebook accounts. Above all, our own Titus Oates wannabes now prefer to operate inside the Church.

    I think of the Titus Oates Wannabe who recently emerged from under a rock, too scared at first to use his real name for his Klan-style screed called The Dictator Pope or something. (Because Catholicism needs to become a democracy, Dontcha Know.)

    I think of another Titus Oates Wannabe, an inveterate admirer of Wannabe #1, who, when investigated by his Order of Malta superior for his libelous emails – in writing which, with characteristic stupidity, he used his legal firm’s logo – insisted that he did not write the emails at all and that his account must have been hacked! As an attempt to baptize the time-honored dog-ate-my-homework alibi, this insolent fantasy of his will take some beating.

    Finally, I would remind Carl Olson of his own prohibition on comments “that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory.” I would respectfully but firmly ask how his conscience can possibly reconcile this sensible ban with his publication of the above remark “A decent human being cannot help but be an anti-Catholic.”

    That sentence, Mr. Olson, is hate-speech pure and simple: as is the subsequent demand for a Spanish-style exterminationist Red Terror against us. The gutters of Christchurch are currently running with blood as a consequence of an Australian fiend whose name is Legion, and who thought about Muslims in exactly the same way that Bonshika Jackson thinks about us Catholics.

    Are you not ashamed of yourself, Mr. Olson, for letting that comment remain? To quote a famous American lawyer’s 1954 words: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

    Meanwhile I commend Mrs. Bogle’s expertise on the 1666 conflagration and hope that she will (as a famous wartime song title puts it) keep the home fires burning.

  4. If the Catholic Church is as bad as you think it will be consigned to the ash heap of history.Somehow I believe it will survive and prosper again after this current purgation.

  5. No, today’s anti-Catholicism is not “well-deserved.”

    As articulated in a recent excellent article in New Oxford Review, writer Frederick W. Marks notes how St. Paul bemoaned in his early letters how Church leaders and followers were already failing to uphold the faith and live according to its precepts.

    Think about that. Even “minutes” after the Church was founded, so many in the Church were already failing.

    Yes, a lot of our bishops and priests are woefully weak.
    But this is nothing new.
    What is new is the Internet and the ability to bludgeon those with whom we disagree with the click of a mouse.

    The Catholic media is missing the forest for the trees.
    American culture is very, very sick, and our Church has the answer: Jesus Christ.
    Yes, we should demand orthodoxy, but Catholic media is so busy beating up on bishops over actions from decades ago that it is neglecting its role in amplifying the message of the Church and its bishops.

    This needs to change. And now.

    • You make several good points, David, and I appreciate them. But I, for one, am not beating up bishops for stuff from decades ago, but for the failure of so many to step up and address the many real ills that exist, the corruption and nepotism (so to speak) that runs rampant, and the failure, in fact, to proclaim the Gospel with clarity and without apology. This is not to deny there are good bishops. But, in my opinion, far too many (a majority?) are little more than bureaucrats and technocrats who walk around with their fingers testing the winds from Rome.

  6. “Today? As I write this, we face new examples of mob hatred and prejudice. In Australia numbers of people probably do believe that an innocent cardinal really has committed vile crimes. Those who shouted and cursed him as he left the court will be relishing ongoing snide jokes and crude conversations. “Catholic priests – you can’t trust ‘em.””

    This last paragraph is the author’s opinion, outside of the court’s ruling which found Pell guilty. This article, it seems was written specifically so she could express this opinion but unless she has some authority to make a different judgment, her opinion is simply not justified.

    • This last paragraph is the author’s opinion
      The entire piece is Joanna Bogle’s opinion as are the majority of pieces posted at Catholic World Report. Your comments are your opinion as well.

      By the way, were you present in the court room as an observer for the entire trial or did you serve as a member of the jury?

  7. No anti-Catholic bigotry is not new, but neither is Catholic “bigotry”. How many time would I hear my father use the N word just before he would take up the Sunday collection. My old church, St. Mary’s, had no black members until the Singleton family were finally allowed in. Last I knew Torry Singleton and his wife Millie were bringing the communion hosts to the priest. After decades of bigoted hatred a black family were accepted members. Ironic! Now the church is faced with another possible isolation of a Gay lifestyle without acting bigoted. If President Trump succeeds there will be no more transgender persons in our military. Is Trump bigoted? Leaving no stone unturned, Trump’s order stipulates that active TGs be purged and that new recruits be accepted only by birth sex. This bigoted announcement from a man who was deferred by the military five times for bone spurs. Coincidently, in 1960 I complained of the same malady. I was told to ignore it and report for duty.

    • “How many time would I hear my father use the N word just before he would take up the Sunday collection.”

      I don’t know the answer, but I’m curious about the magisterial weight and authority of your father’s pontifications. I don’t see any positive references to racial epitaphs in the CCC, nor in any footnotes from Vatican II.

    • Morgan does not seem to realize that race is morally neutral, whereas the homosexual lifestyle and pretending that one can change one’s sex are morally wrong.

      One can’t Morgan’s father’s foul-mouthed bigotry on the Church.

      President Trump’s order is not bigotry, it’s a recognition of biological reality; and we do not need mentally ill people in the military.

  8. I never believed Cardinal Pell was guilty and after watching the World Over last week I am convinced he was set up by someone. Not sure who.

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