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Campaign to ban anti-Catholic bonfire event

A Catholic man has begun a campaign to halt the annual burning of an effigy of the Pope on a controversial bonfire in England.

The annual event in the East Sussex town of Lewes also involves the display of anti-Catholic banners, children shouting anti-Papal slogans and cheering as the effigy is burned.

The Lewes bonfire dates back to the 16th century and 1850 saw the beginning of the burning of a papal effigy in protest at Pope Pius IX's decision to restore the Catholic hierarchy in England. The event commemorates the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs in Lewes High Street from 1555 to 1557, under the reign of Mary Tudor.

"Do I not have the right to walk down an English street without feeling intimidated because of my religion?" asked Joe O'Keefe, a former councillor and parishioner at a nearby Catholic Church. "It is not good enough to say stay away if you don't like it."

Police told him there is no specific legislation in relation to inciting religious hatred in England and Wales and so officers are powerless to act.

But Mr O'Keefe, who was disturbed to learn that Ulster loyalist hardliner Ian Paisley has close connections with a chapel in the town, now plans to step up his campaign and write to every Catholic MP to ask for support in his fight, and he has also appealed for Universe readers to back his battle.

Lewes falls within the Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, and diocesan communications officer Stuart Geary conceded that the event could offend.

"We are aware that some people do find the bonfire at Lewes distressing and we are sorry for that. No one should have to worry about their faith," said Mr Geary.

"For the most part, people see Lewes' bonfire celebrations as harmless."

Campaign launched to ban anti-Catholic bonfire event (The Universe 8/12/03)

Lewes Bonfire Council
Making History: Lewes Bonfire Night (BBC)

9 Dec 2003