To grow up a Catholic in Britain in the 1960s was to feel slightly separated from the rest of the country. Our parish rituals set us apart – all the incense and tinkling bells, the way we prayed earnestly for the conversion of England and the little booklets from the Catholic Truth Society at the back of the church extolling the virtues of the martyrs of the Reformation (though never the Protestant ones).
At my country grammar school, I sat in a classroom to avoid being contaminated by Anglican prayers at assemblies. At Mass we prayed for the conversion of ‘our separated brethren’, which was odd because my devoutly Anglican father was not remotely separated. He drove us to church, but as someone of another persuasion he was somehow a lesser believer. Even the late Cardinal Basil Hume, a much-loved and saintly figure who did a great deal to reconcile England to Catholicism, according to his successor, privately thought that ‘Catholics had the truth, and that Protestants were in the wrong’.
As recently as fifty years ago, it was unthinkable that a Catholic would achieve high office in Britain, so when John F Kennedy was elected US president there was widespread rejoicing that one of our own had made it. What a difference half a century makes: Catholic Cabinet ministers