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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 77 Articles
Joanna Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom. Her book Newman’s London is published by Gracewing Books.


  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. You write that now things are different and that anti-Catholic bigotry this time is “well-deserved” because of new corruptions…

    Your clarity is refreshing, but not so fast…Already, two centuries ago, Napoleon also burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?”; and there came the well-known cardinal’s response: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”

    Before your catalogue of grievances (much of it true, but not all), in 1968 Pope Paul VI already gave an overview: “The smoke of Satan has entered the Church.”

    Still at the center of the Church, and formative, is the irreducible fact of the sacramental Real Presence. This, rather than not. And, relatedly, there’s the determination nearly 17 centuries ago, already, that the validity of the sacramental core is not annihilated even by the corruption of priests and bishops—the Donatist Controversy in St. Augustine’s North Africa, which already about apostate bishops.

    Broader than your critique, I propose, is the double-issue gnawing at the apostolic Church founded by Christ, both internal (as you correctly note) and external:
    (a) those infiltrators and betrayers within who, like the secular world, would normalize the homosexual culture (and much else), and
    (b) those secular powers without who are intent on a mixture of, yes, justified litigation for sexual abuse, plus the perennial goal (with Napoleon) of bringing down the Church once and for all.

    As always, the sign of contradiction does not fit well with the ephemeral and so-called arc of history.

    Deserved outrage? Yes. (Hopefully righteous rather than otherwise.) Deserved “bigotry”…? And, for the future?…A formally schismatic and hollow and big-tent churchy thing, relevantly in step with the radically secularist world? Quite possibly, more or less. But, also, a remnant Church, purified by suffering (to a degree that IS new) and even by bigotry, in the world but not of the world…this too, with certainty.

    But, come on in, the water’s fine! Peace.

  4. 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.

  5. Your very words show that Anti-Catholic bigotry is alive and well. Yes, there are clergy who have abused children and unfortunately, the majority of those children were post pubescent males and their abusers were homosexuals. That the world does not want to talk about. All sexual abuse is criminal and those who are involved, need to be prosecuted.

    That said, there are far more abusers in the public school systems and the family is the number one place where abuse takes place. You will however not see the media taking on public schools because for most, the issue is NOT the abuse of children, but that attack on the Catholic Church.

    There are over 414,000 priests in the world and to state that the majority are abusers is downright wrong and sick. It is the screed of the anti-Catholic.

    There are 1.2 BILLION Catholics in the world and those who remain in the Church are those who follow Christ and know the need for the Sacraments. We all know we are sinners, not a single human being besides the Blessed Mother is bereft of sin. Those who remain faithful to Christ, who is the Head of the Catholic Church is what it is all about.

    The Church is holy, her members are not. They have never been holy going right back to Judas. Can’t get much worse than that. Satan was in Judas as he betrayed Christ and Satan is within everyone who attacks Jesus Christ in His Church.

    Those who were given the gift of faith and the privilege to the truth of the Church have a special mission to bring that truth to everyone and to cast out those who would lead others astray. Those within the Church now who are filling Her with filth will eventually be cast out and to believe that Jesus Christ is not in charge is heresy.

    So, you may disparage 1.2 billion people if you wish, but please, don’t pretend that it is because you are so self righteous. Truly, if you think that being a decent human being means that you are anti-Catholic, then you are a far cry from a decent human being. I will leave that judgement to the Lord. Just as Jesus said to Saul on the way to Damascus, “Why are you persecuting ME?” you need to remember that attacking the members of the Church is attacking Jesus Christ Himself.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. “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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Side note: The Great Fire, while a human tragedy was both inevitable and spun off some benefits. Before, London, contrary to depictions in current films about Shakespeare, was a terrible mess of shanties, bad or non-existent sanitation, stifling odors from air pollution and a generalized resemblance to a garbage dump. The fire gave rise to a new London that lasted for two centuries before it was renewed again with proper sanitation and fire protection. As for bigotry; the English have a habit of rotating objects for their ire. Started with Scots, transferred to Irish then to dissenting protestants, next Catholics and always in the background were the Jews and the French. Today, it seems the more proper object of people’s antagonism is a generalized negative feeling toward government. But, as they say, there will always be an England.

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