Mary Kenny: The fashion for bashing Catholicism in the UK hurts Catholics and can revive ancient prejudices
Published 26/04/2010 | 05:00
The funny thing is that the British Foreign Office (FO) once had a reputation for being a secret hotbed of Roman Catholics. At one stage, it was calculated that a quarter of the personnel at the famous FO were "Arsees", as the army slang word had it. (When my husband did his British National Service, back in the 1950s, the sergeant-major would order the squaddies to separate their ranks on Sundays: "Arsees and Jews fall out!" Everyone else was deemed to be Church of England.)
One reason why the Foreign Office recruited "RCs" was that Catholic public schools, such as Ampleforth and Stoneyhurst, had a brilliant reputation for teaching foreign languages: not just French and German and Italian, but awkward ones like the Aztec-Mexican language, or indeed Aramaic, the Semitic language spoken by Jesus Christ. The Latin base for a Catholic education was a genuinely useful tool for language-teaching.
And one reason, also, why the other government departments were traditionally suspicious of the Foreign Office -- Margaret Thatcher loathed it -- was because they suspected that these diplomats could be agents of a "foreign power".