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Note that this page is about conspiracy theories, pseudohistory, and other crank ideas about the Church. For legitimate criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, see relevant articles in the category Catholicism.
A penny loaf to feed ol' Pope. A farthing cheese to choke him.
[1][note 1]

Anti-Catholicism refers to staunch opposition to the Roman Catholic Church and to its members, usually grounded in conspiracy theory, nativism, and misrepresentation of Catholic theology (usually by Protestants and, often, copious amounts of tangentially related wingnuttery). Some brands of the anti-Catholic conspiracy theory paint the Catholic Church as a lone conspirator seeking world domination, though others depict the Church as being in bed with the Illuminati or Freemasons. In truth, the Vatican suppressed the Illuminati, and staunchly opposed Freemasonry from its very origins.

While anti-Catholic bigotry was once rampant among Protestants, recent political re-alignments have strengthened ties between conservative Protestants and the Catholic hierarchy. Increasingly, so-called "anti-Catholicism" is merely whining about criticism of the Church or carping about coverage being insufficiently pro-Catholic, especially when this criticism or coverage concerns disagreement with the Church's positions on issues such as birth control, divorce, abortion, gay rights, and (most understandably of the bunch) the Church's handling of pedophile priests.[2][3] Read: Persecution Complex in Christianity.

The Reformation and England[edit]

Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan.
Richard Hofstadter[4]

The idea of the pope as Antichrist plays a central role in the anti-Catholic conspiracy theories. This idea dates back to the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther (1483-1546), whose complaints about financial and theological improprieties the Church had ignored, set off a schism within Western Christianity. (Eastern Christianity already had its own gripes with the popes — Eastern Orthodox Christians disliked the Vatican sponsoring military crusades against them (as in 1204[5] or 1242[6]), quite apart from any theological issues.) Following a popular conception of his day, Luther believed that during the End Times, Satan would work to corrupt the Church. Luther believed that the institution of the papacy was that corrupting influence, and, borrowing the term from the first and second letters of John, he called it "antichrist".[note 2] Luther produced a series of woodcarvings with side-by-side depictions of the Pope (labeled as "antichristus") and Jesus in which the pope was doing the opposite of Jesus (for example: in one carving, Jesus is washing the feet of the poor while the pope is having his feet washed by the poor).[7]

Conspiracy theories about the Catholic Church found especially fertile ground in England from the 16th century onwards with the English Reformation and createvolution of the Church of England. The persecutions of Protestants launched by "Bloody" MaryWikipedia (reigned 1553-1558), in which the English authorities put more people to death for heresy in five years than had been executed during the previous fifty, did nothing to improve the image of Roman Catholicism in England. The threatened invasion of England courtesy of the Spanish ArmadaWikipedia in 1588, with its implied threat of reviving Marian-style persecutions, also didn't help. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an actual conspiracy by Catholics to assassinate King James I, also helped to fuel anti-Catholicism in England. Probably the most famous anti-Catholic theory involved the so-called "Popish Plot", a conspiracy theory cooked up by one Titus Oates that implicated the Catholic Church in a conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II[8] (who personally tended towards leniency to Catholics and allegedly converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in 1685). This led to a moral panic in the 1670s and 1680s that canny political operators used to justify the execution of at least fifteen alleged conspirators and the introduction in 1679 of the Exclusion Bill, which sought to de-legitimize James, Duke of York (later King James II, reigned 1685-1688), as heir to the throne due to his Catholic faith.[9]

The idea that the Jesuits were foot-soldiers in the vast Catholic conspiracy, another common theme in anti-Catholicism, also played a role in Popish Plot theories.[10]

Beginning in the mid-17th century, the English parliament passed a number of penal laws with the intent of suppressing Catholicism and re-asserting the authority of the Church of England. The Clarendon Code, four acts passed between 1661 and 1665, targeted the political and religious "perversions" of Catholics and other non-Anglican heretics.[11]

America and Know Nothingism[edit]

Burning of a Catholic church during the Philadelphia nativist riots.Wikipedia

The US into the mid-19th century[edit]

Protestant settlers in America often took with them the anti-Catholic sentiment found in Europe. However, due to the overwhelmingly Protestant religious make-up of the nascent United States, anti-Catholicism did not become a major political issue until the 19th century. Anti-Catholic sentiment in the 1800s arose in large part as a response to the large influx of Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany. One of the most popular early anti-Catholic tracts was written by none other than the inventor of the telegraph himself: Samuel Morse. In 1835, Morse published a book called Foreign Conspiracies Against the Liberties of the United States,[12] which alleged the Catholics were part of a larger conspiracy based in Austria to install a member of the House of Habsburg as the imperial ruler of the US.[4] During this period, anti-Catholicism began to become intertwined with early versions of the Freemason and Illuminati conspiracy theories, all of which played into nativist ideas about a European monarchical takeover of the US.

While Irish immigrants were most frequently targeted by nativists, Germans were also victimized, especially in the Midwest, while Hispanics were targeted in western states and territories. Expansionists like Sam Houston often employed anti-Catholic rhetoric to justify America's conquest of Texas and California, liberating the west from the tyranny of Catholic Mexico.

Numerous "exposés" of the Catholic Church gained popularity, invariably alleging debauchery and torture among nuns and priests. The testimony of Rebecca Reed, who was alleged to have been held captive by the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, inspired an anti-Catholic mob to destroy the convent in August 1834.[13] The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, published in 1836, detailed the debaucheries of the Hôtel Dieu monastery in Montreal, Canada, including orgies, beating and murder of nuns, and the sacrifice of illegitimate infants. Though Monk proved to have been a mentally ill prostitute coached by Protestant evangelicals, her book became a best-seller and inflamed anti-Catholic sentiments throughout America.[14]

These attitudes frequently brimmed over into violence, with riots erupting in New York, Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans, and other cities throughout the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. Some of the most destructive were Philadelphia's Bible Riots in May and July of 1844, where arguments over the use of Catholic Bibles in public schools led to armed clashes between Catholic and Protestant mobs in Kensington and other Irish neighborhoods.[15] Fifteen people were killed and dozens of Catholic churches and homes were destroyed in the course of these riots.[16] Louisville, Kentucky suffered an even worse riot in August 1855, dubbed "Bloody Monday", where attacks on the city's German-American population left twenty-two dead.[17]

Know Nothingism[edit]

Catholic crocodiles threaten children
Thomas Nast expressing a common anti-Catholic sentiment of the era, that Catholics would attempt to subvert children
See the main article on this topic: Know Nothing Party

In the mid-19th century up until the American Civil War, the nativist Know Nothing movement represented the high-water mark of anti-Catholicism in American politics. The Know Nothings believed in an imminent papal takeover of the US via the "political Romanism" of newly arrived immigrants and attempted to have Catholics banned from public office. They also managed to field Millard Fillmore as a candidate on the Know Nothing ticket in the election of 1856.

Post-bellum America into the 20th century[edit]

Smaller Know Nothing-esque movements, however, persisted in American politics. The Panic of 1893 was latched onto by the newly formed American Protective Association as "proof" of a Catholic conspiracy to destroy the financial institutions of the US. This fringe political movement spawned a host of new conspiracy theories, including allegations that agents of the Church had assassinated Abraham Lincoln.[18]

Anti-Catholic animus often targeted Italians as they began arriving in greater numbers in the 1880s. The most notorious incident occurred in New Orleans in March 1891, where the murder of Police Chief David Hennessey led to the lynching of eleven Italian immigrants. At least fifty Italians were lynched in the United States between 1890 and 1920.[19]

Anti-Catholic conspiracy theories continued to incubate on the fringe right until the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century. The KKK promoted Protestant white supremacism, leading them to target not just blacks, but basically all minorities. The Klan worked at the local level to shut down Roman Catholic churches and schools largely in the 1920s.[20][21]

Anti-Catholicism became a major issue once again during the presidential campaign of 1928, which pitted the Irish Catholic Governor of New York Al Smith, the first major-party Roman Catholic candidate in a presidential election, against Herbert Hoover. Smith's opponents used the phrase "Rum and Romanism" (Smith was also a "wet" opposed to Prohibition) as a pejorative reference to his campaign,[22] echoing an earlier description of the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion."

The so-called "Catholic Question" once again became an issue in the 1960 campaign of John F. Kennedy. Prominent Protestant ministers, such as Billy Graham, distrusted Kennedy's Catholicism and tried to derail his campaign.[23] The more extreme, paranoid wing of the American conservative movement dredged up the old anti-Catholic conspiracy theories in response to Kennedy's candidacy and subsequent presidential administration as he became the first Roman Catholic president of the US.[24][25]

Germany, Bismarck, and "Ultra-Montanism"[edit]

Otto von Bismarck famously hated the Catholic Church, especially when organized politically, and questioned whether those with "ultra-montan" (beyond the mountain, i.e. South of the Alps) loyalties could have German loyalties and be good citizens. UltramontanismWikipedia was both a slur employed by anti-Catholics and used by Catholics themselves to show just how hardcore they were in their loyalty to the Pope.

Modern variants[edit]

Anti-Catholicism as a political movement has mostly dropped off the radar in the current American political landscape. Most major criticisms of the Church originate in more secular issues like the child sex abuse scandal and the Vatican establishment's social conservatism, and come from lay Catholics themselves as often as not. However, hardcore anti-Catholic wingnuttery still finds a home in many fringe movements and subcultures. The following conspiracy theories often cross-pollinate into unholy alliances of crankery as well, just like in the good old days.

New World Order conspiracists[edit]

See the main article on this topic: New World Order

Conspiracy theorists pushing "New World Order" theories alleging a vast global conspiracy made up of the (Jews/Illuminati/Communists/Freemasons/Jesuits insert your favored conspiratorial bogeyman here) will often throw anti-Catholicism into the mix, mining the conspiracist literature of yesteryear for ever more pseudohistory to shoehorn into the New World Order framework. Current conspiracy theories include that those which claim that Pope Francis is the head of the New World Order government and has plans to create a One World Religion to bring about the reign of the antichrist, this despite them holding the contradictory belief that he is the antichrist.[citation needed]

Wingnut fundamentalist Protestants[edit]

Hardline fundamentalists still continue to claim that the pope is the antichrist and that Roman Catholics engage in Satanic, demonic, occult, or otherwise un-Christian practices,[26] plus equating the Church with the Whore of Babylon, worship of Mary and the Saints with idolatry (see further down "The Two Babylons") or witchcraft, and considering Catholicism a (false) religion (read: basically paganism in disguise). Of course, all of that comes mixed in with claims of them not practicing a religion and other similar apologetics' nonsense, even if Protestantism is an off-shoot of it that uses a number of conventions and ideas established by Catholicism.

Chick tracts are replete with Evangelical hatred for the Church. One tract argues that the Church created Islam, Communism, Nazism, Freemasonry, and more[27] (never mind that all of those were their enemies to differing degrees). In fact, there are more Chick tracts that condemn the Catholic Church than there are Chick tracts which condemn Mormonism, Islam, and the Jehovah's Witnesses combined. One particularly odd theory begun in the 1800s which Chick endorsed claimed that Catholicism is based on ancient Babylon's religion (The Two Babylons, a long-debunked claim), with this later corrupting "true" (Protestant) Christianity. His online store still offers it.[28]

The antichrist theory inevitably leads to a round of crankery every time a new Pope is selected, i.e. "This time, he really is the antichrist and the end is surely nigh!"[note 3] Wash, rinse, repeat.[29] Pope Francis is due to be the very last according to some predictions,[30] so mass hysteria may follow.

Religious anti-Catholicism often merges into New World Order conspiracism. Pat Robertson's 1991 screed The New World Order is such an instance.[31] That makes these theories a staple among the religious element of the hard right black helicopter set.

The Da Vinci Code[edit]

See the main article on this topic: The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown's publication of The Da Vinci Code in 2004 made anti-Catholic conspiracy theories cool again by popularizing and ripping off the pseudo-scholarship of the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The ideas about a cover-up of Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene and the true nature of the Holy Grail are sometimes subsumed into the wider anti-Catholic conspiratorial framework or, alternately, open up those with the inclination toward crankery to a vast wealth of anti-Catholic pseudo-scholarship. The secretive Opus Dei sect of the Church often plays a big role in these theories. Brown has admitted, however, that he does not believe in these conspiracy theories but only adapted them to suit his novels and write fiction.

Northern Ireland[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Northern Ireland

Anti-Catholicism was cross-pollinated with Unionist (pro-British) extremism during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with gruesome results. While the IRA are remembered as the main terrorist group of the conflict, Protestant extremists like the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association had a major hand in the fighting. Ian Paisley, the ideological godfather of Protestant extremism in Northern Ireland, earned notoriety during his time in the European Parliament for denouncing Pope John Paul II as the antichrist. The Troubles are perhaps the most recent case in the Western world of anti-Catholicism contributing to actual bloodshed.

LUCIFER telescope[edit]

See the main article on this topic: LUCIFER telescope

The Vatican maintains the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope at Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona. Some Wingnut Fundamentalists have reported incorrectly, conflated the shared geographic location of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) with the nearby Large Binocular Telescope's (LBT) module known by the LUCIFER acronym (Large Binocular Telescope Near-infrared Spectroscopic Utility with Camera and Integral Field Unit for Extragalactic Research, later renamed LUCI). This has led to some erroneous reporting of Vatican hidden agendas being circulated.[32][33][34]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Up till the 19th or early 20th centuries, people could choke on cheese, especially if cheese vats were left open so foreign bodies could fall in.
  2. The term "Antichrist" is found nowhere in the Book of Revelation.
  3. In some cases, this is even claimed by Catholics themselves.


  1. Chants and rhymes which accompany the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night
  2. Does The Post hate Catholics?
  3. The Most Anti-Catholic Political Ad You'll Ever See
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," in Harper’s Magazine, November 1964, pp. 77-86.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Fourth Crusade.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Battle on the Ice.
  7. Apocalypticism Explained: Martin Luther, PBS
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Popish Plot.
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Exclusion Crisis.
  10. Oates's Plot, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
  11. Clarendon Code (English Government), Encyclopedia Britannica.
  12. Foreign Conspiracies Against the Liberties of the United States by Samuel F. B. Morse (1841) Chapin & Co. 5th ed.
  13. Jeanne Hamilton, "The Nunnery as Menace: The Burning of the Charlestown convent in 1834", published in The Catholic Historian
  14. Joe Nickell, "Maria Monk: A Nun's Secrets Revealed", published in the winter 2013 Skeptical Inquirer
  15. The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation by Zachary M. Schrag (2021) Pegasus Books. ISBN 164313728X.
  16. "The Philadelphia Bible Riots" at Unlearned History
  17. Michael Clevenger, "Louisville's violent Bloody Monday recalled", Courier-Journal 17 March 2015
  18. The Panic of 1893 and the APA in Connecticut, Connecticut's Heritage Gateway
  19. Christopher Woolf, "A brief history of America's hostility towards a previous generation of American immigrants — Italians." PRI, 26 November 2005
  20. Michael D. Jacobs. Roman Catholic Response to the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest, 1921-1928. Marquette University dissertations.
  21. The Ku Klux Klan and the Anti-Catholic School Bills of Washington and Oregon by Kristin Dimick, University of Washington
  22. "Warning Against the Roman Catholic Party," a 1928 speech by Sen. Thomas J. Heflin (hosted at History Matters)
  23. Randall Balmer. "Billy Graham Regrets Political Involvement, Again," Religion Dispatches.
  24. Gregory Campbell McDermott. "I am not the Catholic candidate": Local Issues and the Catholic Question in John F. Kennedy's 1960 Presidential Campaign.
  25. Transcript of JFK's "Houston Speech" at NPR
  26. The Pope is the Antichrist
  27. Mama's Girls.
  28. The Two Babylons - by Alexander Hislop
  29. Here's an example involving Joey Ratz himself: Cardinal's 'Antichrist' warnings raise eyebrows, The Times of London.
  30. Will the next pope be the last?
  31. The New World Order by Pat Robertson (1992) Word Publishing. ISBN 0849933943.
  32. Vatican astronomers are searching for alien life, say authors by Timothy Fowler (Tuesday, April 09 2013) Ecumenical News.
  33. "LUCIFER is helping Vatican astronomers look for extraterrestrials?". Open Minds Production. 
  34. "Why Did the Vatican Name It’s New Addition to It’s Arizona Telescope "Lucifer"?". 333 Crucible: The Divine Imperative.