Anti-clericalism is a historical movement that opposes religious (generally Catholic) institutional power and influence, real or alleged, [Encyclopædia Britannica, "Anticlericalism" (2007 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)] in all aspects of public and political life, and the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen. It suggests a more active and partisan role than mere laïcité, and has at times been violent, leading to attacks and seizure of church property.

Anti-clericalism in one form or another has existed through most of Christian history, and is considered to be one of the major popular forces underlying the 16th Century Reformation. Some philosophers of the Enlightenment, including Voltaire, attacked the Catholic Church, its leadership and priests claiming moral corruption of many of its clergy. These assaults led, in part, to the suppression of the Jesuits, and played a major part in the wholesale attacks on the very existence of the Church during the French Revolution. With the reaction against the excesses of the Revolution, especially after 1815, the Catholic church began to play a more welcome role in official European life once more, and nation by nation the Jesuits made their way back.



The French Revolution, particularly in its Jacobin period, initiated one of the most violent episodes of anti-clericalism in pre-modern Europe. The church was outlawed, all monasteries destroyed, 30,000 priests were exiled and hundreds more were killed.cite book |last= Collins|first= Michael|others= Mathew A Price|title=The Story of Christianity|origyear=1999 |accessyear=2008 |publisher= Dorling Kindersley |isbn=0-7513-0467-0] Robespierre sought to destroy Christianity entirely and replace it with a national Cult of Reason. When anticlericalism became a clear goal of French revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries seeking to restore tradition and the Ancien Regime took up arms, particularly in the Revolt in the Vendee, which is regarded by some historians as the first modern genocide.When Pope Pius VI took sides against the revolution in the First Coalition, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy. The Pope was imprisoned by French troops the following year and died after six weeks of captivity. After a change of heart, Napoleon then re-established the Catholic Church in France with the signing of the Concordat of 1801.cite book |last= Duffy|first= Eamon|others= |title=Saints and Sinners, a History of the Popes|origyear=1997 |accessyear=2008 |publisher= Yale University Press in association with S4C |isbn=|id=Library of Congress Catalog card number 97-60897] However many anti-clerical policies continued. Wherever Napoleonic armies entered a territory, monasteries were sacked and church schools and charitable institutions were secularized.

Third republic

A further bout of anti-clericalism occurred in the context of the French Third Republic and its dissensions with the Roman Catholic Church. Prior to the 1905 French law on the separation of Church and State, the Catholic Church enjoyed preferential treatment from the French State (along with the Jewish, Lutheran and Calvinist minority religions). During the 19th century, priests were employed as teachers in public schools, and religion was taught in schools (teachers were also obliged to lead the class to Mass). But during the 1880s, Jules Ferry, Minister of Education, then President of the Council, began to expel religious figures from public schools (expelling 5000 on November 29, 1880) Fact|date=February 2007. Then, in 1881-1882, his government passed the Jules Ferry laws, establishing free education (1881) and mandatory and lay education (1882), giving the basis of French public education. These laws were a crucial step in the grounding of the Third Republic (1871-1940), dominated until the 16 May 1877 crisis by the Catholic Legitimists whom dreamed of a return to the "Ancien Régime".

The implementation of the 1905 law on secularism was enacted by strength and vigor by the government of Radical-Socialist Émile Combes, meeting violent protestation by the clergy. Most Catholic schools and educational foundations were closed, except in Alsace-Lorraine which belonged at that time to Germany — and which continues to retain today a derogatory status because of its specific history — and many religious orders were dissolved.

In the Affaire Des Fiches, in France in 1904-1905, it was discovered that the militantly anticlerical War Minister under Emile Combes, General Louis André, was determining promotions based on the French Masonic Grand Orient's huge card index on public officials, detailing which were Catholic and who attended Mass, with a view to preventing their promotions. [Larkin, Church and State after the Dreyfus Affair, pp. 138-41: `Freemasonry in France’, Austral Light 6, 1905, pp. 164-72, 241-50.]

Republican's anti-clericalism softened after the First World War, as the Catholic right-wing began to accept secularism. However, the theme of private schools in France, which are often Catholics, and which professors are paid by the state, remains a sensitive issue in French politics.

Austria (Austro-Hungarian Empire)

Emperor Joseph II opposed what he called “contemplative” religious institutions — reclusive Catholic institutions that he perceived as doing nothing positive for the community. [ [ Catholic Encyclopedia] accessed March 19, 2008] His policy towards them are included in what is called Josephinism.

Joseph decreed that Austrian bishops could not communicate directly with the Curia. More than 500 of 1,188 monasteries in Austro-Slav lands (and a hundred more in Hungary) were dissolved, and 60 million florins taken by the state. This wealth was used to create 1700 new parishes and welfare institutions [Okey, 44] .

The education of priests was taken from the Church as well. Joseph established six state-run “General Seminaries.” In 1783, a Marriage Patent treated marriage as a civil contract rather than a religious institution [Berenger, 102] .

Catholic Historians have claimed that there was an alliance between Joseph and anti-clerical Freemasons. ["In Germany and Austria, Freemasonry during the eighteenth century was a powerful ally of the so-called party, of "Enlightenment" (Aufklaerung), and of Josephinism" from CathEncy|url=|title=Masonry (Freemasonry)]


Anti-clericalism in Italy is connected with reaction against the absolutism of the Papal States, overthrown in 1870. For a long time, the Pope required Catholics not to participate in the public life of the Kingdom of Italy that had invaded the Papal States to complete the unification of Italy, leaving the pope confined in the Vatican. Some politicians that had played important roles in this process, such as Camillo Cavour, were known to be hostile to the temporal and political power of the Church.

The hostility between the Holy See and the kingdom was finally settled by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who sought an agreement with the Church to gain its support: the Lateran treaties were finalised in 1929.

After World War II, anti-clericalism was embodied by the communist and socialist parties, in opposition to the Vatican-endorsed Christian Democracy.

The revision of the Lateran treaties in the eighties by the socialist prime minister of Italy Bettino Craxi, removed the status of "official religion" of the Catholic Church, but still granted a series of provisions in favour of the Church, such as the eight per thousand law, the teaching of religion in schools, and other privileges.

Recently, the Catholic Church has been taking a more aggressive stance in Italian politics, in particular through Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who often makes his voice heard commenting the political debate and indicating the official line of the Church on various matters. This interventionism has increased with the papacy of Benedict XVI. Anti-clericalism, however, is not the official stance of most parties (with the exception of the Italian Radicals, who, however identify as laicist), as most party leaders consider it an electoral disadvantage to openly contradict the Church: since the demise of the Christian Democracy as a single party, Catholic votes are often swinging between the right and the left wing, and are considered to be decisive to win an election.


Blessed Miguel Pro, arms spread in the form of a cross, was executed by the anti-clerical regime in Mexico.] Following the Revolution of 1860, US-backed President Benito Juárez, issued a decree nationalizing church property, separating church and state, and suppressing religious orders.

Following the revolution of 1910, the new Mexican Constitution of 1917 contained further anti-clerical provisions. Article 3 called for secular education in the schools and prohibited the Church from engaging in primary education; Article 5 outlawed monastic orders; Article 24 forbade public worship outside the confines of churches; and Article 27 placed restrictions on the right of religious organizations to hold property. Most obnoxious to Catholics was Article 130, which deprived clergy members of basic political rights. Many of these laws were resisted, leading to the Cristero Rebellion of 1927 - 1929. The suppression of the Church included the closing of many churches the killing and forced marriage of priests. The persecution was most severe in Tabasco under the strident atheist governor Tomás Garrido Canabal.

The effects of the war on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934 at least 40 priests were killed. [Van Hove, Brian [ Blood-Drenched Altars] Faith & Reason 1994] Where there were 4,500 priests serving the people before the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion and assassination. [Scheina, Robert L. [,M1 Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899] p. 33 (2003Brassey's) ISBN 1574884522] [Van Hove, Brian [ Blood-Drenched Altars] Faith & Reason 1994] It appears that ten states were left without any priests. [Scheina, Robert L. [,M1 Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899] p. 33 (2003Brassey's) ISBN 1574884522]


In 1940 Graham Greene wrote a fictional best selling book, The Power and the Glory, a story of an alcoholic priest persecuted in Mexico during the 1930s.


Anti-clericalism has been hard to notice in Poland until it became one of the policies of the communist People's Republic of Poland. It was nonetheless not a policy that gained any significant public support, as the Catholic Church became one of the publicly recognized and respected centers of the opposition to the government. Ironically, this has been reversed following the fall of communism in Poland, when the role of Catholic Church in political life increased.


A first wave of anti-clericalism occurred in 1834 when under the government of Dom Pedro all convents and monasteries in Portugal were abolished, simultaneously closing some of Portugal's primary educational establishments.The fall of the Monarchy in the Republican revolution of 1910 led to another wave of anti-clerical activity. Most church property was put under State control, and the church was not allowed to inherit property. The wearing of religious garb and religious instruction in schools were abolished, as well as religious oaths and church taxes.


The first instance of anti-clerical violence due to political conflict in C19th Spain occurred during the First Spanish Civil War (1820-23). During riots in Catalunya 20 clergymen were killed by members of the liberal movement in retaliation for the Church's siding with absolutist supporters of Ferdinand VII.

In 1836 following the First Carlist War, the new regime abolished the major Spanish Convents and Monasteries. The Radical Alejandro Lerroux distinguished himself by his inflammatory pieces of opinion.

During the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and in the context of atrocities on both sides, many of the Republican forces were violently anti-clerical anarchists and Communists, whose assaults during what has been termed Spain's Red Terror included sacking and burning monasteries and churches and killing 283 nuns and more than 6,000 priests, including 13 bishops, 4184 diocesan priests, 2365 members of male religious orders, among them 259 Claretians, 226 Franciscans, 204 Piarists, 176 Brothers of Mary, 165 Christian Brothers, 155 Augustinians, 132 Dominicans, and 114 Jesuits, and there are accounts of Catholic faithful being forced to swallow rosary beads, thrown down mine shafts and priests being forced to dig their own graves before being buried alive. [Beevor, Antony "The Battle for Spain" (Penguin 2006).] The Catholic Church has seen fit to canonize several martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and beatify hundreds more.


Anti-clerical waves have been seen in Quebec since 1960. The Quiet Revolution is characterised essentially by an opening toward socialism and the objection to the social model advanced by the church and the clergy.

The Role of Freemasonry

Freemasonry has historically been seen, especially by the Catholic church"From the official documents of French Masonry contained principally in the official "Bulletin" and "Compte-rendu" of the Grand Orient it has been proved that all the anti-clerical measures passed in the French Parliament were decreed beforehand in the Masonic lodges and executed under the direction of the Grand Orient, whose avowed aim is to control everything and everybody in France." From the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia article [ Freemasonry] citing "Que personne ne bougera plus en France en dehors de nous", "Bull. Gr. Or.", 1890, 500 sq."] as a principal source of anti-Clericalism - especially in, but not limited to,"But in spite of the failure of the official transactions, there are a great many German and not a few American Masons, who evidently favour at least the chief anti-clerical aims of the Grand Orient party." From the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia article [ Freemasonry] ] historically Catholic countries. Certain branches of Freemasonry are acknowledged by Masonic sources as a major source of anti-clericalism in Mexico,"After the defeat and exile of the dictator in the 1910 revolution, a succession of Presidents who were Masons and strongly anticlerical ruled the country under the 1917 Constitution that maintained substantially the same liberal principles of 1857." From [ Mexican Masonry- Politics & Religion] by Oscar Salinas, Senior Grand Warden-York/Mexico] Italy“never before has a Masonic lodge made such a gesture towards the Catholic Church, distancing itself from other irregular Masonic lodges that, with their anti-clericalism, have caused much harm to the image of freemasonry in the world.” Grand Master Fabio Venzi of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Italy quoted in [ Catholic priest made chaplain to Italian Masonic lodge] , Catholic World News, Auguist 9th 2005] and France."We do not think that it would be accurate or just to describe, even the Grand Orient of France as anti-Christian, though it is undoubtedly very strongly anticlerical." [ Editorial of the Builder August 1928 - Volume XIV - Number 8] ]


Most Communist governments have been officially anti-clerical, abolishing religious holidays, teaching atheism in schools, closing monasteries, church social and educational institutions and many churches.Fact|date=January 2008 In the USSR, anti-clericalism was expressed through the state; some have estimated thousands of priests and monks were either executed or sent to forced labour camps to die during the Stalin era.

Anticlericalism in the Islamic world


As of the late 1990s and early 2000s anticlericalism was reported to be significant in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Demonstrators have used slogans such as `The clerics live like kings while we live in poverty!` One report claims "Working-class Iranian lemented clerical wealth in the face of their own poverty," and "stories about Swiss bank accounts of leading clerics circulated on Tehran's rumor mill." [Molavi, Afshin, "The Soul of Iran", Norton, (2005), p.163]

Iran, although an Islamic state, imbued with relgion and relgious symbolism, is an increasingly anti-clerical country. In a sense it resembles some Roman Catholic countries where relgion is taken for granted, without public display, and with ambigious feelings towards the clergy. Iranians tend to mock their mullahs, making mild jokes about them ... ["Economist" 16, January 2003]

The sentiment there differs from Western anticlericalism in that it is/was associated not with irreligious beliefs but with dissatisfaction with theocratic rule there, the perceived misrule of Islamic clerics (particularly economic dissatisfaction) who rule under the principle of .

It is, however, associated with a decline in religious observance. According to the Economist magazine Iranian clergy have complained that more than 70% of the population do not perform their daily prayers and that less than 2% attend Friday mosques. ["Economist" 16, January 2003]

ee also

* Clericalism
* Roman Catholicism's links with political authorities
* Laïcité
* Red Terror (Spain)
* Cristero War
* Reign of Terror
* Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution
* La Violencia
* Secularism


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