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 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.
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.
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 .
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 .
Catholic Historians have claimed that there was an alliance between Joseph and anti-clerical Freemasons.
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.
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.
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. 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. It appears that ten states were left without any priests.
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. The Catholic Church has seen fit to canonize several martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and beatify hundreds more.
Freemasonry has historically been seen, especially by the Catholic church as a principal source of anti-Clericalism - especially in, but not limited to, historically Catholic countries. Certain branches of Freemasonry are acknowledged by Masonic sources as a major source of anti-clericalism in Mexico, Italy and France.
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 ...
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 velayat-e faqih.
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.