Sunday, January 28, 2007

Anti-Catholicism: The last acceptable prejudice

Two weeks ago, in a sign of his weakening authority, Tony Blair bowed to the wishes of his cabinet and decided that there would be no exemptions for the Roman Catholic Church in the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs). The media caravan has now rolled on.
Yet aspects of this very ugly debate will linger in the mind for some time to come, not least the brazen anti-Catholicism of some politicians, journalists and bloggers. The irony of these people's extravagant claims to be fighting prejudice while indulging in some flagrant bigotry themselves was not lost on this aquatic creature.
The display was shameless enough to merit comment by a number of dispassionate observers. Mary Ann Sieghart wrote in The Times:

"The last time the State allowed itself to be overruled by the Church, over the percentage of non-believers allowed into faith schools, there was deep resentment among Labour MPs. It looked as if the Government was caving in under pressure. They were not going to allow this to happen again — and particularly when the Church concerned was Catholic.
The amount of vitriol being whispered in Westminster corridors this week shows how shallowly buried are the old prejudices. “I’m not going to have some bloody reactionary German Pope dictate the law of our land,” said one minister. Another admitted, only half-jokingly, that his mother had always told him: “Never trust a Catholic.” And a third asked: “Where’s all the child abuse and paedophilia? In the Catholic Church. They should get their own bloody house in order and sort out the way paedophilia lies hidden."

It was the BBC's Nick Robinson who really got to the heart of the matter. He said:

"This is a serious debate about competing rights and strongly held convictions. I am struck by the level of vilification being meted out to those with strongly held religious views. It is stated, as if fact, that Tony Blair is acting under orders from his Catholic wife who's acting under orders from the Archbishop who's acting under orders, presumably, from the Pope.
No-one who has met Cherie Blair would believe that a quick call from a bishop would have her quaking. Ruth Kelly is accused of putting her religion before her principles. One Catholic MP who defended her publicly has since received hate mail.

Gay public figures have, of course, experienced vilification for many years and often from religious people. Allow me to delicately suggest, however, that the attitudes being displayed now towards Catholics in public life must feel to them like a form of prejudice and discrimination."

He's not wrong. That is exactly how it feels. Catholic blogger Joee Bloggs spoke for many of us when he commented:

"I can't help feeling that now is a very tough time to be a Catholic. My Irish grandparents used to say in the 1960s when there were all the troubles with Northern Ireland: don't talk religion or politics. I think these wise words are prudent for the modern day Catholic living in the UK right now on the backdrop of an anti religious and particularly anti Catholic mentality. These are indeed difficult times to be Catholic."


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