World News

Factbox: Catholicism in Britain

(Reuters) - Pope Benedict will visit Britain on September 16-19.

Following are details on Roman Catholicism in Britain:


-- Around 5.2 million Catholics live in England and Wales, or around 9.6 percent of the population there, and nearly 700,000 in Scotland, or around 14 percent. Catholics in Northern Ireland come under the Catholic Church in all Ireland.

-- In the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey, 43.2 percent of those responding said they had no religion. The largest church was the Church of England (22.5 percent). Other Christian groups were Presbyterians (2.9 percent), Methodists (1.9 percent) and Baptists (0.8 percent) with 10 percent listed as non-denominational or “other Protestant.”

-- The main non-Christian faiths were Islam (3 per cent), Hinduism (1.5 percent) and Judaism (1.0).


-- Until the 1530s, Christianity in Britain came under the authority of the pope, and doctrine and worship were Catholic.

-- In 1534, after Pope Clement VII refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII had himself declared Supreme Head of the Church in England and closed down the monasteries. He continued to consider himself a Catholic.

-- After a experiment with Protestantism under his son Edward VI (1547-53) and a return to Catholicism under his elder daughter Mary I (1555-58), England officially adopted Anglicanism in 1559 under his younger daughter Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Except during the reign of the Catholic James II (1685-88), Catholicism remained illegal for the next 232 years.

-- Catholic worship became legal in 1791. The Emancipation Act of 1829 restored most civil rights to Catholics.

-- In the 1840s, the ranks of Catholics were augmented by Irish immigration after the Irish Famine and by Tractarian converts from the Church of England, who included the future cardinals John Henry Newman and Henry Edward Manning.


-- The Act of Settlement of 1701, later extended to Scotland, bars Catholics from the British throne. It is still in force.

-- Britain restored links with the Vatican in 1914 after a break of 350 years and raised this to full diplomatic status in 1982. Francis Campbell, the first Roman Catholic appointed ambassador to the Vatican for 400 years, presented his credentials to Pope Benedict in December 2005.


-- Northern Ireland’s sectarian divisions go back to the 17th Century when Protestant settlers from Scotland and England settled in the northeastern part of the island. Britain retained the mainly Protestant area when it granted independence to the overwhelmingly Catholic south and west of Ireland in 1921.

-- Simmering sectarian tensions exploded into violence in the late 1960s, with British troops under attack from Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrillas. Militant Protestant loyalist groups sought to defend British rule by fighting Catholics.

-- A low-level guerrilla war raged for the next 30 years, killing more than 3,600 people. The IRA called a ceasefire in 1997. A year later, the landmark Good Friday peace agreement set up a power-sharing assembly at Stormont in Belfast.

-- On August 24 a report by the Police Ombudsman revealed that the British government, the police and the Catholic Church colluded to protect a priest suspected of involvement in a 1972 bombing in Northern Ireland that killed 9 people.


-- The scandal over clerical sexual abuse of children shaking the Catholic Church around the world has also affected Britain. In 2001, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, commissioned a report, conducted by Lord Nolan, to look into the problem of abuse in the church.

-- It recommended the establishment of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children (COPCA) and measures to stamp out pedophile activity in the church, which were adopted.

-- Murphy-O’Connor became embroiled in the scandal himself when he acknowledged making a mistake in a previous post by reassigning a pedophile priest and not reporting him to the police.

-- The priest, Michael Hill, was jailed in 1997 for abusing nine boys.


-- The Pope visited Britain during its war over the Falkland Islands with Argentina and prayed with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Anglican Church of England. Several weeks later, John Paul visited Argentina.

Sources: Reuters/ Social Attitudes Survey 2008.

Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Mark Heinrich