Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Church of Rome in England

The idea that there's any lingering anti-Catholicism in England took another blow yesterday as Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Dunacan Smith led the charge against the poor that is the Government's Welfare Reform Bill and ex-Tory party chairman and now head of the BBC governors Chris Patten appeared before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards alongside BBC chief executive Mark Thompson.

The Church of England has been pretty accurately described as the Tory party at prayer. The reverse is not quite the case though: as well as a Nonconformist former PM (Thatcher), the Tories also have a sprinkling of upper-class Catholics in their ranks like Michael Ancram and Julian Fellowes.

As a lapsed Catholic atheist from Manchester, I am unsurprisingly descended from the Irish peasant and labouring classes who since the nineteenth century have been more prevalent in the North West of England than the upper-class descendants of English recusants. The priests and bishops I knew in my youth came from Cavan or Mayo rather than Ampleforth or Stonyhurst. Although I've never met an upper-class Catholic, I nevertheless have a interest in and certain regard for the English recusants who refused to give up their faith and went underground, sending their sons to be educated on the Continent and smuggling in priests. In part this is based on having enjoyed Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Paul Scofield's superb performance as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons but is also to do with being impressed by people prepared to stand against the stream whatever the cost.

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