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Is Elizabeth Anti-Catholic? Yep.


I tend to be very skeptical when charges of anti-Catholicism are flung around in the context of contemporary culture; usually what has taken place is that someone has expressed disagreement with some teaching of the Catholic Church–and that’s no more an act of bigotry against Catholics than an opposition to affirmative-action policies is an act of bigotry against black people. Well, last night I saw the new Cate Blanchett movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age . . . and, boy, is it anti-Catholic. The Spanish are cartoon villains, and their villainy is associated throughout with powerful images of Catholic devotion; when the Spanish Armada sinks, a rosary and a crucifix glide symbolically to the bottom of the ocean. The message is unmistakable: The Spanish were wicked precisely because they were Catholic, and we are very lucky that Elizabeth defeated them. (Meanwhile, except for one brief torture scene, the human-rights abuses of the Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan regime–against Catholics and other dissenters–are not depicted in the film, and Cate Blanchett even gets to give a couple of noble speeches about freedom of conscience and other pieties. )

Now, I’m not denying that the world is a better place today because of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. I’m very glad it happened: Out of the English victory came, eventually, many of the institutions we in the West hold dear. But that’s no reason to whitewash the Elizabethans and imply that Catholicism is an essentially negative force in history. After all, among those who cherish–and fight for–our system of religious tolerance, diversity, and respect for human rights are the millions of Catholic citizens of the West. This film implies that Catholic faith is per se an enemy of those institutions. It is therefore a) a falsehood, and b) an act of bigotry. (Lest anybody be tempted to see the movie because it’s “controversial,” be forewarned: Anti-Catholicism is far from its biggest problem. It’s also filled from start to finish with cliches and embarrassing soap-opera histrionics.)


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