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Wednesday, November 5, 1997 Published at 16:34 GMT

Despatches: Europe


A Roman Catholic Priest in Lewes, in the county of Sussex in Southern England has attacked plans to burn Catholic effigies as part of the annual celebrations for Bonfire Night. Each year on the fifth of November Lewes holds the biggest party in Britain to commemorate the Gun Powder Plot of 1605 when the Catholic Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And as our Religious Affairs reporter Jane Little reports, the controversy over pope-burning in Lewes shows no signs of abating.

"Father Eric Flood, the parish priest in Lewes, says the ritual of burning effigies of Pope Paul the Fifth in the town centre every year is 'moral racism'. His comments come as one of the five Bonfire Societies of Lewes, says it will go ahead with plans which include ingiting a firework-stuffed effigy of the man who was pope at the time of the Gunpowder plot. Keith Austin of the Cliff Bonfire Society defended the event as part of the carnival's tradition.

That tradition began when Guy Fawkes led a catholic insurrection to get rid of the Protestant King James the First of England. The plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the king failed and Guy Fawkes along with his co-conspirators was hanged. A relieved king decided to fertilise anti-Catholic feeling by making the event a public holiday. It's no longer a public holiday in Britain but Lewes, where 17 Protestants were martyred under James' Catholic mother, Mary Queen of Scots, enthusiastically kept up the traditon. Tonight 3,000 people will parade through the town in what has become one of Britain's wildest nights out. For most of the thousands of people who line the streets every year it's a party - with banners, flaming torches and singing. But for the Catholic Church as long as the Cliff society continues to burn its effigies - which last year included the current Catholic bishop - it's an anti-Catholic ritual that's got to stop."

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