Northern Ireland Protestants funded by the Pope!

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This is a word-for-word transcript of a Sunday Times article, written by John Follain, printed September 23 2001. I felt it was important to spread this to the widest audience possible, but there was nothing I felt that I could add.

William of Orange 'funded by the Pope'

Documents discovered in Vatican archives suggest that William of Orange, the Protestant hero who ascended the English throne in 1689, was in the pay of the Pope.

William, known as "King Billy", has been revered by generations of Ulstermen for his part in driving James II from power and ending Roman Catholic rule in England. Three centuries later, his role is still celebrated in the name of Northern Ireland's loyalist Orange Order.

In a new book, two Italian historians claim Innocent XI, who became pope in 1676, gave substantial amounts of money to William in the hope of securing himself a secret and powerful ally within the Protestant camp. The pontiff was apparently keen to see the end of James II, whom he regarded as being too close to Louis XIV of France, whose relations with the Vatican had long been poor.

The book, Imprimatur, says the Vatican sent an estimated 150,000 scudi to William in the 1660s via intermediaries close to the wealthy family of Benedetto Odescalchi, as Innocent was known before he became pope. The amount was equal to the Vatican's annual budget deficit and equivalent to more than £3.5m today.

The transfers are detailed in volumes kept for centuries in he cellar of a palace belonging to the Odescalchi family. They have recently been made available to scholars.

"It's very likely the Pope went on supporting William because Rome disapproved of James's aggressively Catholic policies, and saw him as too close to Louis XIV of France, who clashed with Rome," said Francesco Sorti, co-author of the book. "The Vatican managed to keep the secret for so long by destroying many of the documents. It was simply impossible for the Roman Catholic church to admit that a pope had played an important role in the Glorious Revolution."

The documents on which the book draws also show that William offered to repay the loan in 1689 by handing over to Rome his personal fiefdom of Orange in Southern France. The Vatican rejected the offer, apparently because Innocent had died a few months earlier and it did not want his financial links with William to become public knowledge.

Historians have long debated whether the Pope was involved in helping William's accession to the English throne. Cecil Kilpatrict, archivist for the Orange Order, acknowledged, however, that there had already been some embarrassing indications of ties between the two.

"In the 1930s, a portrait of William against a backdrop of onlookers was installed at Stormont, the Northern Ireland parliament," Kilpatrick said. They found that in the background there were various faces looking in, and one of them was Pope Innocent. They had to get rid of it."

Irish historians said this weekend they were not surprised by the revelations. "The politics of Europe was in a state of flux, the Pope wanted his way, and if he had to support a Protestant, William, to get his way, why not?" said the Rev Brian Kennaway, a Belfast-based historian.

Eamon Duffy, author of Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, agreed that the idea was a possibility. "It is widely accepted, because of James's indebtedness to France, that the Pope was actually relieved when James fell," he said.

Others were more sceptical, however. "I can't see why the Vatican should fund William as early as the 1660s, given that his political opponents in the Dutch republic were more tolerant of Catholics than his supporters," said John Miller, a professor of history at Queen Mary College, University of London.

Members of the Protestant community said the disclosures were unlikely to dent the reputation of William, whose forces' victory over James's army in the 1690 Battle of the Boyne is still celebrated by Northern Ireland's Protestants every July 12. "I don't think we're going to see any banners of King Billy being defaced as a result of this," said Ian Paisley Jr, a Democratic Unionist party member of the Northern Ireland assembly.

"I think quite a lot of people would say, well, he wiped the Pope's eye, we'll let him off - he got money out of him. It's good to take money off a person and then kick their arse, isn't it?"

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