Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Catholicism in England: Tough Break 0’10

September 14, 2010 · 4 Comments

The other day I went with a few others to the Newman House up the road from Arran House to attend Catholic mass. On the whole I think we all enjoyed the experience and actually gained a lot from it. For me, it was a relief to finally hear a native Englishman discuss the role of Catholicism in England, a topic I’ve been curious about even before coming to London.

Briefly looking around at the number of university students congregated in the small chapel, the priest quickly recognized that most were foreign to England. I could not tell whether or not his decision to touch on prominent hot button religious issues was planned. Regardless, the priest took advantage of preaching to the variety of students about contraceptives, abortion, homosexuality, and the global fear of Catholicism. Obviously they’re quite heavy, controversial issues to discuss in just a twenty-minute sermon.

Although the priest’s explanation of the Catholic Church’s view regarding homosexuality was particularly intriguing—and positive—, I was most interested in his discussion regarding the presence of Catholicism in England. He described the underlying sense of fear of Catholicism and the Papacy among the English. The priest made comments alluding to the English people’s standoffishness toward practicing Catholics and the Church on the whole. The discord among Anglicans and English Catholics apparent today may be incomparable to the country’s history but the unease among the English is still faintly visible. The priest at one point joked that the English fear the Papacy in Rome and devout Spanish Catholics will some day return to England to convert everyone back to Catholicism.

From my experience touring Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a Hindu mandir, Jewish synagogue, and Islamic mosque, and attending Catholic mass in a small university chapel, I have realized a subtle controversial religious dialogue materializing in London. England has an established church but their reaction to religious diversity is much different from America’s where no church is established. There is a fear of Catholics worldwide, but where I live the religion is thriving and accepted (again, that could easily be just because of my location in the northeast). I think religion is part of an American’s cultural identity but also one’s spiritual faith is more strongly expressed, whereas in England, Anglicanism easily becomes just a label. As Kate Fox described: a child once asked their parent what their religious background was, and the parent told the child to mark Anglican. When the child questioned this decision, the parent stated that that’s just what one was supposed to put. Furthermore, as the gentleman at the synagogue explained today, it would be unwise for a candidate for Prime Minister to publically share their religious beliefs, whereas in the United States, a politician’s religious devotion is widely broadcast. Although both nations continue to struggle with religious tolerance and freedom, I would say I feel more comfortable as Catholic in America than in England. I receive opposition in America, but I also feel free to defend my beliefs. Here in England, even people’s spiritual devotion to the established church is diminishing; completely ignoring the fact that Catholicism’s presence is seemingly minimal. Although my experience at the Newman House was most definitely positive, I look forward to finding a larger community of Catholic students at UEA in Norwich (hopefully).

Categories: 2010 Mary · Churches and Cathedrals
Tagged: , , , , ,

4 responses so far ↓

  •   mattg // Sep 14th 2010 at 16:42

    Great post Mary, in your own opinion, do you think that centuries of ruthless killing between Catholics and Protestants in England may have altered the English character? As if hiding ones religion or being fearful of religion is a kind of cultural adaptation.

  •   maryc // Sep 14th 2010 at 16:43

    I wanted to discuss that in my blog, but felt it could be left to discussion, haha. I’m curious about that possibility though!

  •   Mary Kate // Sep 14th 2010 at 17:02

    That’s a great point, Matt. The priest specifically mentioned the Spanish Armada – that when British people hear “Catholic,” they see King Philip’s hostile navy on the horizon. I think religious conflict plays a huge role in religion’s backseat ride in the UK, whether that conflict has stemmed from within the nation or without.
    But take heart, Mary – I hear by all accounts that there’s a vibrant parish close to UEA and a strong Catholic campus ministry, as well. It doesn’t seem so far that English Catholicism is as complacent as Anglicanism. But I guess we’ll find out more this Saturday! 😉

  •   battilaj // Sep 14th 2010 at 19:56

    I think your point about Catholicism is really well founded. It also seems to me that while Anglican is a stock label for the British, it would be uncomfortable for many to hear someone talk about their faith within the Church of England, and I don’t quite know why that is.

    get me a Pope autograph next week please.

You must log in to post a comment.