Anti-Catholicism lies at the heart of Englishness

At the very centre of the national psyche there seems to be a basic suspicion of Catholicism which can be difficult to pinpoint: but it has certainly reared its head recently.

The front cover of Private Eye with Pope Benedict on the balcony and the crowd in St Peter’s Square supplying the crude – but hardly unforeseeable – punchline may have shocked some and offended others, but it certainly should not have surprised anyone, as it belongs to a great tradition of English anti-Catholic satire: a tradition which has its roots in the dark days of the penal laws, and its high-water mark in the decades which followed emancipation.

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