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Evangelical Protestants oppose Pope's visit

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William Crawley | 13:51 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

The Evangelical Protestant Society has issued the following statement, making clear their opposition to any visit to Northern Ireland (and presumably Great Britain as well) by Pope Benedict or his successors:

"We fully support the statement issued by DUP MLA Ian McCrea in opposition to any visit by the Pope to Northern Ireland. We commend Mr McCrea for his courageous and principled stand and urge all Protestant politicians to follow his lead. Whether the pope comes to Ulster next year, or the visit is deferred to 2012, now is the time to galvanise opposition to any such visit, and it is incumbent upon all Protestant leaders, in church and state, to nail their colours to the mast. As evangelical Protestants, we believe in civil and religious liberty for all, and we accept that a religious leader has the right to pay a pastoral visit to his flock. But the pope is no ordinary religious leader, and his visit cannot be merely pastoral. Indeed, the planned visit to Great Britain will be the first state visit by a pope since the Reformation. The Pope makes very significant spiritual and temporal claims about himself and his church. The Pope of Rome arrogates to himself power over princes and kings and claims to be Vicar (or substitute) of the Lord Jesus Christ."

This statement was issued by Wallace Thomson, EPS's secretary, who is also a former DUP special advisor. Wallace Thompson will join me live on Sunday morning to talk about the concerns he has raised.

"Protestants from the days of the Reformation onwards have identified the pope as the antichrist, and this doctrinal position is enshrined in, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is the position held by Ian McCrea, and it is the position held by the Evangelical Protestant Society as an inter-denominational organisation. We therefore utterly reject the accusation by SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone that Ian McCrea's comments were sectarian. Of course the Church of Rome regards any opposition to her teachings or her claims as "sectarian", so we should not be surprised by Mr McGlone's remarks. Meanwhile, we in EPS will be doing all we can to co-ordinate united Protestant opposition to any papal visit, and we will work closely with Protestants not only in Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom."

In a homily last Sunday, marking the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit in 1979, Cardinal Sean Brady said: "My message is one of peace and love. May no Irish Protestant think that the Pope is an enemy, a danger or threat. My desire is that instead Protestants would see in me a friend and a brother in Christ". Again it is timely to recall those words in a week when some here have tried to drum up opposition to a possible Papal visit. "Let history record" the Pope concluded: "That at a difficult moment in the experience of the people of Ireland, the Bishop of Rome set foot in your land, that he was with you and prayed with you for peace and reconciliation for the victory of justice and love over hatred and violence".

This is the full text of Cardinal Brady's sermon:

Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady at the Papal Cross, Drogheda to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland

We stand on Holy Ground. We stand on the spot where, thirty years ago, the successor of Peter, Pope John Paul II, described his joy at following in the footsteps of Patrick who came to the nearby Hill of Slane to light the first Paschal Fire in Ireland. It was my great privilege to accompany the Holy Father here to Drogheda. We came by helicopter. After seeing the huge crowds in the Phoenix Park, I was thrilled to see that there was another huge crowd here in Drogheda. They were well catered for, thanks to the excellent organisation which had been carried out by the Committee led by Bishop James Lennon.

The Holy Father took on an immense day's work that particular day. He left Vatican City very early, went to Rome airport, arrived at Dublin Airport, went from there to the Nunciature; to the Phoenix Park; down to Drogheda; back to Dublin; toured the streets of Dublin; visited Áras an Uachtaráin and had a couple of other meetings.

The end result was that the man didn't get sitting down to his dinner until after midnight. He said: "The Irish are trying to kill me on the first day". Yes, indeed, we did try to kill him with meetings and travel and speeches and ceremonies. But that was the kind of man Pope John Paul was. He never said "no". He came to Ireland en route to the USA and the United Nations. He was very sorry he didn't get to Northern Ireland, especially as the other Church Leaders had joined Cardinal Ó Fiaich in inviting him there.

Here in Drogheda the Pope said: ''I desire to visit those places in Ireland where the power of God and the action of the Holy Spirit had been especially manifested."

I would like you to think a little bit about that. This is one of those places in Ireland where the power of God and the action of the Holy Spirit have been especially manifested. Now, of course, we all know Drogheda is a special place and that Drogheda people are special people. But it is nice to know that this has always been the case. It is good to know that others, including the Pope, have noticed this also. Why did the Pope come to this conclusion? He was well aware, I suppose, that Patrick had to pass Drogheda on the way to Slane. On the Hill of Slane, Patrick; "for the first time in Ireland, lit the Paschal Fire, so that the light of Christ might shine forth on all of Ireland and unite all its people in the love of the one Jesus Christ". Drogheda welcomed Patrick, as later it would welcome Malachy, Oliver Plunkett, Mother Mary Martin and many others down through the years. Here Pope John Paul prayed: "May the light of Christ - the light of faith - continue always to shine out from Ireland".

While in Ireland, the Pope reminded us powerfully of the challenge of remaining faithful in the midst of change. From his landing on Irish soil to the last minutes before his departure, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the outstanding fidelity of the Irish people to the Christian faith. After kissing the ground at Dublin Airport, he spoke of his gratitude "for the glorious contribution made by Ireland over the centuries to the spreading of the faith." As he departed from Shannon Airport he repeated those famous and important words - Ireland Semper fidelis! Ireland - always faithful.

Yet in reminding us of our heroic fidelity he conveyed a prophetic sense of anticipation that Ireland was about to enter one of its most challenging periods since the time of Patrick. In the opening words of the homily of his first Mass in the Phoenix Park in Dublin he spoke of how "Ireland, that has overcome so many difficult moments in her history, is being challenged in a new way today, for she is not immune from the influence of ideologies and trends which present day civilisation and progress carry with them." He spoke of the capability of mass media to bring into our homes a "new kind of confrontation with values and trends that up until now have been alien to Irish society." He spoke of the danger of a pervading materialism bringing new forms of slavery and an "aggressiveness that spares no one." He also said that "the most sacred principles, which were the sure guides for the behaviour of individuals and society, are being hollowed-out by false pretences concerning freedom, the sacredness of life, the indissolubility of marriage, the true sense of human sexuality, the right attitude towards the material goods that progress has to offer."

Looking back we can now appreciate just how prophetic these words were. They were summed up in Pope John Paul II's often quoted sermon from his final Mass of the visit in Limerick. It was here he said: "Ireland is at the point of decision in her history.... Ireland must choose. You the present generation of Irish people must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision firm. But let us never forget - Ireland has overcome many difficult moments in her history. Ireland can, and will, with the help of God, overcome those difficulties again."

Pope John Paul went on to talk about St. Oliver Plunkett and his canonisation which he attended in 1975 at the invitation of his friend, the late Cardinal Conway.

When he spoke at Drogheda, Pope John Paul gave a powerful message about peace and reconciliation. It was not to be just any peace and reconciliation, but a peace based on justice. He turned to four specific groups of people to deliver what he asked.

1. He spoke to the men and women of violence - especially the young men and women of violence.

2. He spoke to fathers and mothers.

3. He appealed to leaders - especially political leaders.

4. He spoke to Catholics and Protestants.

Let us recall what was asked and then we can see what was given in response.

To the first group he said - "On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace". Remember this was 1979 - the end of the first decade of the Troubles - the most bloody and violent decade of all.

It was into this context of fear and almost despair that the Apostle of Peace spoke his often quoted passionate pleading - "You must know" he said, "that there is a political, peaceful way to justice". Thirty years later we have seen what was almost unimaginable then. Almost all the paramilitary organisations have decommissioned, others are in the process of doing so. We have the Assembly - where politicians work together in a power-sharing executive. Today we give thanks to God for all of this.

And yet, because we still have a small, but determined group, determined apparently to carry on the fight - I want to make my own the words which Pope John Paul addressed to young people on this spot: "I say to you, with all the love I have for you, with all the trust I have in young people, do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, retaliation. Do not follow any leaders who train you in ways of inflicting death. Love life- respect life - in yourselves and in others. Give yourselves to the service of life, not of death" I beg all of you here today to pray that this appeal will be heeded.

Next the Pope spoke to fathers and mothers saying, "Teach your children how to forgive. Make your homes places of love and forgiveness. Make your streets and neighbourhoods centres of peace and reconciliation". Here is the recipe for a secure and harmonious future, not just in politics but in personal and domestic life also.

There have been some good initiatives. I remember meeting a group some years ago, led by the Mayor of Drogheda, which included pupils from St. Joseph's CBS who were on a visit to a school in Ballyclare, County Antrim. Of course there have also been the developments at the site of the Battle of the Boyne which have been warmly welcomed also.

These are the kind of efforts which the Holy Father had in mind when he said: "Never think you are betraying your own community by seeking to understand and respect and accept those of a different tradition". We need lots of those initiatives.

All the people in positions of leadership and all members of political parties and all who support them were encouraged to make a special effort. They were told that they would serve their own tradition best by working for reconciliation with others. I think that the St. Oliver Plunkett Peace Group, ably led by Tony Burns, have risen magnificently to the challenge.

The Holy Father made a very special appeal to all who, he said, are called to the noble vocation of politics. He urged them to have courage and to face up to their responsibilities. The challenge is ever timely and relevant not just for politicians, for all leaders. The cause of peace, reconciliation and justice will always require the courage to adopt policies that promote the genuine common good.

Finally, the Pilgrim of Peace turned to Catholics and Protestants saying: "My message is one of peace and love. May no Irish Protestant think that the Pope is an enemy, a danger or threat. My desire is that instead Protestants would see in me a friend and a brother in Christ". Again it is timely to recall those words in a week when some here have tried to drum up opposition to a possible Papal visit. "Let history record" the Pope concluded: "That at a difficult moment in the experience of the people of Ireland, the Bishop of Rome set foot in your land, that he was with you and prayed with you for peace and reconciliation for the victory of justice and love over hatred and violence".

A recent piece of research here in the Republic has shown that there has been a dramatic drop in support for Christian Church Unity in principle over recent years.

This has to be disappointing when we consider what Pope John Paul II said here thirty years ago. Speaking of the invitations to visit Northern Ireland he said they were "an indication of the fact that the Second Vatican Council is achieving its work and that we are meeting with our fellow Christians of other Churches". However, I believe the situation is not as bleak as the perceptions revealed by the Report. Slow but solid progress has been made.

The research referred to, was carried out by Father Michéal McGréil, SJ and goes on to say that "The scandal of Church division puts people off the Christian Faith while evidence of Church Unity would make it authentic and attractive. A revival of the ecumenical movement is called for from the findings of this Report".

· What we have to ask ourselves now is:

· How is the Power of God being shown here and now in Drogheda?

· Where is the Holy Spirit at work?

· How are you and I co-operating or maybe not co-operating with the Holy Spirit here and now?

Ireland is once again at a moment of decision, a time of choice. Let us ask Our Lady, "Queen of Peace and Queen of Ireland", to help the pilgrim Church - that is - all the people who profess their faith in His son - to say 'Yes' once again - as she did with such serenity and fidelity - to Him who is the way, the truth and the life - both now and forever AMEN


  • Comment number 1.


    Time to announce a new plan for Christian unity.

    Here it is.

    From henceforth we shall all, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter (The EPS have, apparently, forgotten that some opposed the Williamite Settlement. Bunch of compromisers!) rally around our collective and equally meaningless cliche.

    Yep, just keep churning out the same old piffle and zippity zap, one day the Pope will be playing for Linfield.

    Job done, and Ireland will be a Protestant Nation once again.

    Oh, and a little song, Helio, you know the tune I'm sure,

    Count the cliches, name them one by one
    And it will surprise you what God hasn't done.

    I mean Protestantism hasn't anything to do with politics, has it, nah, not at all.

  • Comment number 2.

    "We commend Mr McCrea for his courageous and principled stand"

    Courageous? Er, how so? You think his constituency will turn on him? That he's risking votes?

    "As evangelical Protestants, we believe in civil and religious liberty for all, and we accept that a religious leader has the right to pay a pastoral visit to his flock. But..."

    If there's a BUT, you don't mean ALL.

    "The Pope of Rome arrogates to himself power over princes and kings..."

    Not all temporal power, no. Last time a Pope tried anything *like* that, the French kidnapped him. About 600 years ago. Would a little history kill the EPS?
    Anyhow, what's the suggestion? That this is a coup? Who's researching this? Chick publications?

    "Protestants from the days of the Reformation onwards have identified the pope as the antichrist..."

    Well here's one who doesn't. Scriptures for this position please? That's right. You have none. That's why you're quoting the reformers and not the Bible.

    "Of course the Church of Rome regards any opposition to her teachings or her claims as "sectarian" "
    Nope! Read Vatican II.

    Now I have deep, deep problems with some fundamental Roman Catholic teachings, especially those about the nature of the Church and the nature of the Sacraments. So I'm not an ecumenical.
    But this rubbish just makes anyone who has doctrinal difficulties with Roman Catholicism look cro-magnon. It's knee-jerk bigotry. It helps no-one.

    Graham Veale

  • Comment number 3.

    I do hope Graham and I agree on this...

    Now how long before I find out? :-)

  • Comment number 4.

    Well folks, there you have it, it looks like we do!

    Have to hand it to you Graham, "Who's researching this? Chick publications? ", absolute classic, but here's the scary thing it's probably not so much Chick Pub. doing the research, as Chick Pub. being used for the research.

    Bigotry, at a Christian bookstore near you. :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    I hope I still live in a free society where people can express their views. Some people think the Pope is Christ's vicar on Earth, some think he is the anti-Christ, some think he's neither of those things. People are not bigots just because they don't share your views. If you think he's the anti-Christ you should object to him making a State visit. You can criticise that position, but deriding it as mere bigotry misses the plot somewhat. I think it's a mistaken view, and indeed overstates the Pope's influence even amongst Catholics, and certainly amongst the World's leaders. I think he's a decent man, with strong Catholic beliefs. But I don't think it's bigotry that makes some people oppose his visit.

  • Comment number 6.

    There was a time not long ago when I seriously considered becoming a Catholic. After much study and reflection I decided that I couldn't agree with certain points of that Church's doctrine. Nevertheless, I certainly feel considerable respect for the Catholic Church.

    What I think motivated me was a deep disenchantment with much of what is termed "Protestantism". Having just had the misfortune to apprise myself of the views of the Evangelical Protestant Society, I am wondering whether perhaps I ought to revisit my interest in Catholicism. It surely cannot be as bad as what I have just read.

    While I cannot call myself a Catholic, that does not mean that I feel any affinity with Protestantism. And if I am a "Protestant" I am following in the footsteps of the Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt, who said "I am a Protestant. So I protest". Therefore I am Protestant, therefore I protest against the bigotry, ignorance and un-Christianity of the EPS.

    One other point... I have tried my hardest to write this message in polite and restrained language. If I were allowed to express what I really think about the EPS, I fear the moderators would tire of the multitude of asterisks! (So I will leave it to the reader's imagination to read between the lines...)

  • Comment number 7.

    #5 - FlexDream -

    Yes we do live in a free society where people can express their views.

    That is why I am exercising my freedom to call the EPS bigoted.

  • Comment number 8.

    It may not be bigotry to oppose the Pope's visit, but it is when those who do the opposing are claiming to be the defenders of the faith, know the truth of the gospel and then go right ahead and confuse that gospel with their own brand of politics and nationalism.

    I'm criticizing from the inside, so is Graham and interestingly this is a perfect example of that which was called idolatry on another thread.

    Maybe evangelical Protestants (I am one) ought to consider other ways of defending the faith, like, perhaps standing against injustice, poverty, over-charging in the market place, realising that God didn't call us to build a 5 million pound new church while people are starving in Ethiopia, then again, maybe it's easier to organise a campaign against the Pope.

  • Comment number 9.

    LSV - if I recollect aright you are an Anglican so (pace mccamley) you have every right to call yourself a Catholic!

  • Comment number 10.

    The Pope is not coming to the UK on a pastoral visit, but on a state visit as the head of the Vatican City State! but if he does come on a pastoral visit I hope he knows the law has changed for visiting clerics on pastoral visits as Benny Hinn was refused entry to the UK!

  • Comment number 11.

    I am confused about the Pope's message to Ireland. Is he telling the Irish to vote "Yes" or "No" on Lisbon?

  • Comment number 12.

    "Benny Hinn was refused entry to the UK!"

    Well, blow me down!

  • Comment number 13.

    The EPS appears to be unaware of Pope John Paul II's six-day visit to Great Britain in 1982.

  • Comment number 14.

    Sounds like a great excuse for the marchers to come out and strut their stuff during the pope's visit...if it doesn't rain. We wouldn't want the lads to get wet now would we. They might catch a death of cold.

    "The most contentious parades are those along Garvaghy Road to Drumcree Church, near Portadown and along the Lower Ormeau Road in south Belfast - both are internationally recognized flashpoints, attended by human rights monitors, and both are capable of sparking province-wide rioting."


    If nothing else it will tell the Pope how some in NI feels about him. Let's see how forgiving he really is.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Yep, just keep churning out the same old piffle and zippity zap, one day the Pope will be playing for Linfield." petermorrow....

    If he is good enough he would get a game as it's all open at Linfield now.
    And given the current age profile of the backline, he'd fit in well....!

  • Comment number 16.


    You're right, I'm a bit out of date and, I have to say, I never expected to see a fallible back four at Windsor Park!

    You guys used to be so reliable.


  • Comment number 17.

    Well peter, when people start thinking their job is "Godlike" then we hit problems...... (Did I just compare David Jeffrey with the Pope?)

  • Comment number 18.

    same old same old

  • Comment number 19.

    A couple of memories from John Paul's visit to Scotland, 1982

    Two guys talking in a pub.

    "Pure liberty, man. Removing a' thae trees in Bellahouston Park for the Pope's visit. Shouldnae' be allowed!"

    "Why are you so upset? Are you a conservationist?"

    "Naw, man. Ah'm a sniper."

    The Pope's visit to Scotland is drawing to a close. The crowd of 'The Faithful' outside are singing "Will Ye No' Come Back Again?"
    Cardinal Winning explains to John Paul that the song refers to Bonnie Prince Charlie. "Ah, yes!" responds John Paul. "I had dinner with his mother."

  • Comment number 20.

    I won't exactly be rushing out to greet the Pope myself - indeed I think a protest might well be in order for reasons, of-course, very different from those of the EPS!

    I am commenting here, however, because I am puzzled. I have no idea what the reference to 'Chick Lit' means in this context. I read one of the EPS' online articles and found references to wet white shirts stretched tightly across manly chests quite conspicuous by their absence.

    Would anyone care to enlighten me? I suppose it will seem terribly obvious when I'm told.

  • Comment number 21.


    "I suppose it will seem terribly obvious when I'm told."

    Not at all. It's a very particular sub-cultural niche, one, which I'm sorry to say I know about.

    Anyway here's the deal, it's comic and cartoon evangelism; but rather than me try to explain, here's the link, if it's allowed to stay. If not just search for Chick Publications.


  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks Peter - that link was genuinely a revelation!

  • Comment number 23.

    Solve the problem.
    No more hatred.
    Let St Peter FM+DFM wee Martin,(whose dirty deeds,
    the pope on the last visit, condemned)agree to
    form an Islamic Republic.
    No more hatred,then !!!

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm still waiting for a Biblical argument that esatblishes that the Pope is the AntiChrist.


  • Comment number 25.

    Question...what is Antichrist?.

    Basic meaning...Anti-Christo = in place of Christ?.

    Question...how many are their?.

    Basic answer... lots, within the past, present, and future.
    1 John C2&V18, KJV.

    The term "Anti-christ" appears 5 times within ST John's epistles only once in plural form and four times in the singular.

    So basically, it is someone or something that clearly takes the place of Christ Jesus the Lord.

    Not just the POPE takes the place of Christ "BUT" many well known Protestant TV evangelists claim to be Christ as well, such as... Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and even Benny Hinn, plus many more besides.

  • Comment number 26.

    I took a little look at the members of the council of the Evangelical Protestant Society - a majority note their membership of the Royal Black Institution. VERY interesting!!

    I wonder how they square the inane and distasteful rituals, the barely-veiled home-eroticism, the quasi-masonic hocus-pocus of that organisation's initiations with an evangelical understanding of Christianity.

    My family have had a long if entirely pragmatic connection with Orangeism; I myself have not been to a meeting for years although I am still technically a member. I seem to remember, as a new entrant, drinking a koinonia toast from an actual human skull.

    As a liberal Anglican I regarded the whole thing as puerile nonsense; as evangelicals the council members would be bound surely to take it rather more seriously. Would anyone who might be in a position to do so care to explain how evangelical Christians can endorse such practices.

  • Comment number 27.

    The truth is, they really can't, before my conversion to Christ, I was a member of the order, even from an early age I was marching with the juniors and was in a loyalist band for a while before I was kicked out, but, just after my Born Again experience the Spirit of God clearly told me, that it was wrong "FOR ME" to be connected to any secret society with rituals, so I resigned.

    One last thing, yes, post...26 that question has puzzled me for years, but one thing I can really say, when I was in the juniors at the end of every lodge meeting, we always sang...shall we gather at the river! and this hymn has stuck with me throughout my life.

  • Comment number 28.

    John, thank-you for your reply. I hope you don't mind my asking but, when you say "FOR ME", are you implying it might be OK for some evangelical Christians to belong to such a society? If so, on what grounds might it be permissible?

    I am not surprised Shall we gather at the River? sticks: its music and words are a potent combination.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm really starting to like John the Baptist. Fundamentalist, proud of it,& not buying into loyalism. He takes the EPS interpretation of antichrist - but is prepared to be consistent with that interpretation! And self-critical.
    Sorry we got off to a bad start. My fault, and I'd like to apologise.


  • Comment number 30.

    Agreed Graham. I rather liked that reply too.

  • Comment number 31.

    GV, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR KIND WORDS, but believe me in early posts I think we where both winding each other up plus other's.

    I've something to tell you, the Spirit of God convicted me about five days ago about you and other bloggers that I was wrong and offensive towards all, and even before that, I was really worried, that my loose lips( thoughts on net) could cause others to get at you, which is clearly not the right thing for "ME" your Brother in CHRIST to do on you, for that and other silly statements Iam truly sorry.

    Post...28, I know a wee bit about the occult (SADLY) and my honest advice is, any order that has a Pentagram connected to it,
    NO Christian should be comfortable with.

    Lastly Iam not saying either, that every person in the orders are aware of the connotations of what I have just said about the five pointed star, if they individually realized the true meaning of this one of many dodgy symbols associated with the orders they would all have problems staying.

  • Comment number 32.


    Cheers. I hope you stick around.


  • Comment number 33.

    Bigitry from another Member of the Democratic Unionist Party
    i am a Irish Nationalist and A Catholic and Sad that the Holy Father is not coming to the North of Ireland but when the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland invites the Holy Father to Ireland [all of its Under 32 County Church Administration] he will be Coming to Visit, nobody can stop that not even the D.U.P
    I thought the Party was moving on to Accepting all people of this Island
    and not just themselves, and if the Protestants are like Catholics they will just respect all , when the Queen comes here we do not march against it same goes for the Prime Minister, so why should the Pope be Attacked by Protestants. as for the Pope going to Great Britain
    whats that got to do with anyone but the People over the Water, its nothing to do with the D.U.P. that Queen visited to Pope in Rome a Few times, even though i do not think she should of i have nothing against it
    as long as its a Visit of 2 Head of State and not between the Governor of a Protestant church and the Head of the Catholics. by the way i think he going to visit Great Britain and the Queen as Head of State of the Vatican City State and not as the Pope and Sea of Rome its repaying the Queen for her Visit to Rome those times. id like the Queen to do something also visit the South before she Dies the President has Visited Great Britain so the Queen should visit the South then she has Visited everywhere in the World, and she repays the Visit By The Glorious President those times, as for a Majority of Protestants in the 6 Counties there's only a Majority Protestants in 2 Counties Now,
    and the Last Visit of An English Head of State was George VI when he was King of Ireland, so i thinks its about time to Rectify that she seems a Lovely wee Lady as long as she only does that as Queen of Great Britain and not Claiming to be doing it as Queen of Great and Any of Ireland.


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