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At a Protest the Pope meeting last week Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, insisted that the Protest the Pope campaign was not anti-Catholic.
He said: “The first thing I want to say is that the Protest the Pope campaign is not anti-Catholic. Some Catholic bloggers have tried to portray us as some kind of off-shoot of the Orange order, but this simply isn’t true.
“Our title is Protest the Pope and that’s what it means – this particular pope, Joseph Ratzinger. It does not mean protest the Catholics. Indeed, many Catholics entirely understand what we are about and have stated their support.”
He attempted to distinguish between “modern Catholics”, who, like everyone else, “want to live in the modern world” and “the old men in Rome” who are holding them back.
On the other hand, much venom on the internet is directed at Catholics in general, not just the Pope. The clothing company Catholics with Attitude, for example, did not receive abusive messages about the Pope, but about Catholics.
And Britain has a long and disturbing history of anti-Catholic prejudice. The National Secular Society is selling T-shirts with the slogan “Pope Nope”. Some Catholics see in this an unconscious echo of the old sectarian cry: “No popery.”
So, are the Pope protesters anti-Catholic, or are they concerned solely with Pope Benedict XVI and his leadership of the Church?