Thursday, January 14, 2010


The Spectator is organising a debate: "In this year of the Pope’s visit, is it time for England to become a Catholic country again?"

This confirms that the British right is very odd these days. What kind of Conservative are you if you do not believe in the Established Church?

And the list of those speaking in favour of the motion is telling. It includes Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the recently retired Archbishop of Westminster, and Reverend Dom Antony Sutch, former headmaster of Downside and regular contributor to the Today programme's Thought for the Day.

Roman Catholics, like every other religion, like to portray themselves as a harmless minority who are rather oppressed by a secular mainstream culture. That two such prominent British Catholics are prepared to argue that we should be a Catholic country again suggests they would be comfortable with a more ambitious agenda.

Certainly, the concept of "a Catholic country" is likely to make British readers think of Ireland in the decades after independence. Most of them are unlikely to think this a happy parallel.

And their enthusiasm for the motion is a reminder to me that my wistful atheism is a tenable position only in a largely secular society.

Thanks to Archbishop Cranmer, who may at least agree with my first point.


wolfi said...

I've hated the catholic church since I was seven - when my best friend from Kindergarten and I had to go to different schools (in the same building even !) because he was catholic and I was protestant - vrery soon I became an atheist and never looked back on religion ...

Lavengro in Spain said...

The biggest political mistake ever made in England was Henry VIII's selfish and short-sighted break with Rome. Without it the country would have had a proper Lutheran Reformation, maybe ending up with a mixed religious settlement as in Germany. The establishment of the Church of England was the establishment of Euroscepticism in England.

David Cox said...

The late Bail Hume would have laughed at the idea of such a debate.

As an athiest do you think Oscar Romero was wrong to go beyond his ecclesiastical role?

dreamingspire said...

While we have an established church, you expect people to take a pot at it. But, in the information age, for them to try to roll it over and then set themselves up as another established church is laughable. Bring back Martin Luther and his joust at the venal nature of popery.

Matthew Huntbach said...

Certainly, the concept of "a Catholic country" is likely to make British readers think of Ireland in the decades after independence

In Britain we tend to think of Catholicism in terms of the Irish version of it. Which is actually quite different from Catholicism as it is in most of the rest of Europe. Italian Catholicism is somewhat different from Irish, yes?

The Irish seem to be natural Calvinists really, and I think they would have been much happier in themselves had some Gaelic-speaking John Knox come along and converted them all, as their close brethren in the Highlands mostly got converted. In the absence of that they seem to have managed to invent a religion which combines the worst aspects of Catholicism with the worst aspects of Calvinism.

To be fair, when mass was celebrated not in an ornate church full of renaissance painting, but hurriedly in bare surroundings in fear of the British coming along and arresting you for it, I guess some of the aesthetic niceties disappear.

English Catholicism is only just beginning to escape from being the Irish diaspora at prayer. The RC church where I worship is now largely Nigerian in congregation.