The North’s Enduring Pathology: Anti-Catholic Bigotry

Posted By: December 14, 2016

Fr. Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus, Washington.

“The whole map of Europe has been changed … but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.” (Winston Churchill. February 16, 1922).

This oft -quoted statement of Churchill is fatuous and smug — as if he, his own racist father Randolph and the entire government of England had nothing to do with the problem.

However, his observation is true in one regard: England’s rule has kept alive one enduring pathology in Northern Ireland — virulent and poisonous anti-Catholic bigotry.

This bigotry may not be as bad as it was in 1922, but it all too often rears its viper’s head. The most recent manifestation of this poison is the current reaction by some to a possible visit of Pope Francis to Northern Ireland.

Relevant Background

But first a bit of relevant background as to why this Fermanagh man is focusing on this issue.

At the beginning of 2016, the Irish National Caucus launched its

Animated Internet Video, which has been hugely successful. (View it A professional narrator explains about the partition of Ireland, while the Dove of Peace hovers over The North; welcomes the progress of the Peace Process but expressed the belief that the ultimate solution is the departure of England and a United Ireland. In the meantime, the narrator continues, “The answer clearly lies in equality, unity, nonviolence, and forgiveness, with liberty and justice for all. The way forward is the creation of, in the term made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Beloved Community.”

Hardly controversial stuff!

Then the video continues : “ However, we still have a long way to go.

There is still deep-rooted anti-Catholic bigotry in Northern Ireland. A significant section of the Unionist/Protestant community resents sharing power with Catholics (Nationalists and Republicans) because they have never accepted Catholics as equals.”

I had chosen the words “a significant section” very carefully so as not to be unfair to many Protestants who are not anti-Catholic.

Again — granting the well-established history of Northern Ireland— that was hardly controversial stuff. For example, the respected Professor John Brewer summarizes his very important book, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998: the mote and the beam, in the following way: “Anti-Catholicism forms part of the dynamics to Northern Ireland’s conflict and is critical to the self-defining identity of certain Protestants. This text examines the socio-economic and political processes that have led to theology being used in social closure   and stratification.” The factual history simply cannot be denied.

Well, the Belfast Telegraph(which used to be known as “the Protestant paper,” but which I thought had become less sectarian) got hold of the story. The paper “wound up” First Minister Arlene Foster and got her to denounce me and the Irish National Caucus as being sectarian. Our Video deplored sectarianism, and she accuses us of being sectarian! Imagine, I advocate for Northern Ireland to be seen as The Beloved Community, yet I am accused of sectarianism— the very antithesis. Is there rhyme or reason with this? When I wrote a letter to the Belfast Telegraph refuting the unfairness of its coverage, my letter was not published.(See below copy of my unpublished letter).

And the Belfast Telegraph itself screamed in an Editorial “Irish National Caucus lies must be challenged” (January 29, 2016), which is still up on its web site.

“Lies”? Not at all, and as if to prove so, now comes the deplorable reaction of “a significant section” of the Protestant /Unionist community to the Pope’s proposed visit.


Free Presbyterian Church and DUP

The opposition to the Pope’s visit is being spearheaded by the Free Presbyterian Church, which Reverend Ian Paisley founded in 1951 and which became the foundation stone of his political party, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), which he founded in 1971.That party —because it appeared tougher on Catholics (Nationalists and Republicans)— seized power from the historic Ulster Unionist Party, which was itself by no means pro-Catholic. Arlene Foster defected from the Ulster Unionist Party to the DUP on December 18, 2003.

Eventually, Paisley would moderate his anti-Catholicism and even share power with Sinn Fein — with him and co-leader Martin Mc Guinness being called the “Chuckle Brothers.”

However, the aging Paisley would apparently, in turn, be seen as “going soft on Catholics” and be unceremoniously pushed out of the leadership of both his Church and his political party.

And now, the Rev. Dr. Ian Brown minister of the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast (Paisley’s old church) alleges because the Pope is “no closer to proclaiming the one true biblical Gospel – that salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone” than the Catholic church of Martin Luther’s day … “the only proper response to his high publicity visit is a solid protest.” (“Free Presbyterians ‘will protest’ Pope’s visit.” News Letter, Belfast, November 28).

Even apart from the sad prejudice expressed in such sentiments, it is strikingly remarkable that Rev.Brown totally ignores —while at the same time paying respect to the great Martin Luther—

the wonderful agreement that the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation have reached on the Doctrine of Justification (Joint Declaration on Justification October 1991 in Augsburg, Germany).

The Joint Declaration (with its Official Common Statement and Annex) formally and authoritatively declares that the teaching of the Lutheran Church in the Joint Declaration does not come under the condemnations of Council of Trent (1545-63) and that Catholic teaching on Justification does not fall under the condemnations of the Lutheran Confessions (1580).

In other words, the mutual condemnations of the past on Justification no longer apply.

And as recent as Reformation Sunday (October 30) Pope Francis travelled to Sweden to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, and to reaffirm with the Lutheran World Federation this wonderful Holy Spirit-led ecumenical progress.

How can Reverend Brown act as if this Joint Declaration on Justification does not exist? It surely can’t be because he is not aware of it?

And then, like clockwork —and in keeping with the tradition founded by Reverend Ian Paisley, until he “went soft”— John Finlay, DUP councilor, Ballymoney (the heartland of Paisley’s old constituency) declared: “As an evangelical Protestant, I will not be welcoming a papal visit, and I know I am not alone… the Pope claims temporal and spiritual power over the whole earth.

He claims to be Vicar of Christ on earth, but the Reformers and Puritans correctly identified him as an enemy of Christ and of the Gospel…” (“DUP councilor: Evangelicals should speak out against papal visit” Letter to the Editor. News Letter,  Belfast, Saturday, December 3, 2016).

God help us all from such blindness. What person of spiritual discernment could possibly see Pope Francis as “an enemy of Christ and the Gospel”? Really? Seriously?

Now you see why I refer anti- Catholic bigotry as a pathology.

Of course, the dynamics of such prejudice does not, in fact, hurt Pope Francis but rather the vulnerable Catholics on the ground in Northern Ireland— in the same way that anti-Black prejudice does not in reality hurt  President Obama but the ordinary African-Americans.

Surely in Northern Ireland, of all places on earth, there should be an outpouring of support for the Catholic and Lutheran Churches exorcising the demons of old religious bigotry, intolerance, and disrespect? These demons terribly wounded the Body of Christ, needlessly distorting mutual faith in the central truth of Christianity: we are sinners saved by God’s unmerited grace, in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.




Letters to the Editor

Belfast Telegraph

January 29, 2016

Dear Editor,

I write regarding your coverage of the Irish National Caucus’ animated Internet Video ( E-video).

When the Belfast Telegraph contacted me to get permission to publish the E-Video, I consented, adding that “I hope the Belfast Telegraph will write about our E-Video in a fair and balanced way. If people over there saw Northern Ireland as The Beloved Community, it would be hard for them to disrespect each other.”

I said that with firm hope as I have been impressed by the way the Belfast Telegraph over the years has tried to soften its image of being “the Protestant/Unionist newspaper”— which indisputably was how it was seen in the Catholic/Nationalist/Republican community until fairly recently.

Imagine, therefore, my utter amazement when I saw your headlines: “Arlene Foster’s fury at US video describing Orange Order as supremacists and claiming anti-Catholic discrimination is rife in Northern Ireland.” ( Rebecca Black. January 29).

“Fury” about an E- video that is replete with words and concepts such as “working for justice and praying for peace” ( the perfect Biblical  formulation); “The Beloved Community”; “liberty and justice ”;” The answer clearly lies in equality, unity, nonviolence, and forgiveness, with liberty and justice for all”.

How is such fury warranted ? How often in the past forty years have your readers seen anyone urging Northern Ireland to be seen as the Beloved Community— the beautiful concept that  Blessed Martin Luther King, Jr. took up and made more famous.

Apart from the extreme reaction of Unionists spokespersons, Ms. Black’s own words are   factually wrong and misleading:

1.The E-video never says “ anti-Catholic discrimination is rife in Northern Ireland.”

2.The E-video never says, “It claims Protestants have never accepted Catholics as equals…”

Rather it very carefully  and judiciously says: “A significant  section of the Unionist/Protestant community resents sharing power with Catholics (Nationalists and Republicans) because they have never accepted Catholics as equals.”

That is not only a legitimate opinion but one that is consistently supported by a myriad of facts, figures, and documentation. And it’s a point that objective and respected commentators often make. For example, Brian Feeney former SDLP elected official.

I am really surprised that First Minister Arlene Foster— whom I admire and respect, and not just because she, too, is from Fermanagh— reacts in such an over-the-top and extreme way. The

E-video makes a reasoned and passionate appeal for equality, justice, unity, nonviolence, and forgiveness, and yet the First Minister oddly deems it to be sectarian. A bit like the crazy talk of her former leader (while she was still an “Official” Unionist), James Molyneaux, who declared the IRA ceasefire as “the most destabilizing event since partition.”

How can one make rhyme or reason out of that? Black is white, down is up. Crazy, crazy talk.


Furthermore, it is rather flimsy and weak for Unionist leaders to seize upon the unfortunate but obviously technical glitch whereby the animated E-video seems in some versions to include Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan in Northern Ireland. As if  l — a man from Kinawley parish, which is divided by The Border, in South Fermanagh— would not know there are not nine counties in “the Wee Six.”

I would also think that current Unionist leaders would not want to open that can of worms:  reminding their followers that it was Unionist leaders, back in the day, who excluded their Orange brethren from Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan— abandoning good and true men and women  in the 26 Counties  who had signed the Ulster Covenant allegedly “ in their own blood.” The sell-out to end all sell-outs. The Ulster Unionist spokesperson — without the slightest sense of historical irony  — says,  “By and large, I expect the people of Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan will have a canary when they realize they have been relocated into Northern Ireland without so much as a by your leave.”

The Orange Order questions  “why the IRA were whitewashed out of it.” Very simply: there is no mention of any army, police force or any paramilitary group.

Even though the E-video exposes the undeniable bigotry in some Orange quarters, the E- video — with the accompanying Press Release— puts the fundamental blame not on Protestants/Unionists/Orangemen but on the constitutionally enshrined anti-Catholic sectarianism of the (unwritten) British constitution. Why does the Belfast Telegraph totally ignore this? How is that fair and balanced reporting?

Finally,  while the E-video rightly raises the issue  of the Orange Order forcibly marching in all- Catholic areas where it is not wanted,  the E-video  also declares : “And let’s be clear about this: If Catholic Republicans and Nationalists wanted to parade provocatively through all-Protestant areas of Belfast, the Irish National Caucus would be the first to oppose it.”

Why would the Belfast Telegraph see fit to exclude such an integral and strictly appositional point?