Roman Catholicism

The Catholic remnant

England had ceased to be a Roman Catholic country three centuries earlier in the Reformation under Henry VIII, and from then on saw itself as essentially Protestant. But certain parts of England had always had a few diehard Catholics, especially in:

  • the North West
  • Ireland, which had remained largely Catholic, though Protestants had been brought in to settle the northern counties in the seventeenth century
  • Scotland, where certain Highland areas had remained Catholic.

The re-establishment of a Catholic Church

There was no properly organized Church structure for Catholics (outside of Ireland). However, by the mid-nineteenth century, theCardinal Wiseman number of Catholics in Britain was increasing:

  • large numbers of Irish had come into England as it industrialized, partly to find work, partly to escape the famines at home
  • refugees and immigrants from Europe were often Catholic.

The result was that in 1850, the Catholic Church decided to organize itself and set up a hierarchy in England. Cardinal Wiseman became its leading Archbishop at Westminster.

Reaction to Newman

Many English people looked on the resurgence of the Catholic Church as very threatening and as an attempt to take back lost ground. So when people of such calibre and ability as Newman converted, there was even more cause for alarm.

To show his approval of Newman's conversion, the Pope conferred a doctorate on him. There was no obstacle to Newman becoming a Catholic clergyman as he had never married (Catholic priests are required to be unmarried and celibate). Later, in 1879, he became a Cardinal in, and leader of, the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

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