The Catholic Herald has long held a certain antipathy toward the term ‘Protestant’, with occasional blurts of ‘bigot’ aimed at anyone so obtuse as to be duped by its theology or who even moderately defends the Anglican Settlement. This is fair enough: it is a robust Roman Catholic magazine, so a little anti-Protestant and anti-Anglican sentiment is entirely to be expected. “Protestantism, once the foundation of our ‘glorious constitution in Church and State’, is now something preached in small, back-street chapels and among the fanatic fringes of Northern Ireland’s criminal classes,” the Herald rather sourly proclaimed in 1998, before adding, “It has become the battle cry of murderers.”
That was rather more inflammatory – especially coming in an article which purported to be a plea for greater toleration.
Now Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has taken up the anti-Anglican torch, arguing for the disestablishment of the Church of England in order to remedy “a great injustice in British law“. This great injustice, he avers, is the fact that Princess Alexandra of Hanover, who is something like 482nd in line to the British Throne, has been received into the Roman Catholic Church and so forfeits her place in the line of succession. Fr Alexander writes:
Britain is still an officially anti-Catholic country, in that it has laws that discriminate (albeit in theory alone) against Catholics on the statute books; moreover, no one, except for a few readers of this magazine, seems to care or think it worth bothering about. While the equality agenda remains all the rage, this fact of religious discrimination seems strangely accepted by almost everyone.
..The law of succession is not a live issue as it was, for example, in the first part of the 18th century. But the niggling fact remains – a Catholic cannot become head of state, for the state is a Protestant state.
And so he finds himself advancing the agenda of the National Secular Society, demanding that we “get rid of the last vestiges of the confessional state in Britain” because “The state can only be one thing – religiously neutral”.
Setting aside the rather surprising assertion (from an eminent moral theologian) that the secular state is in any sense ‘neutral‘ (and his apparent ignorance that what would logically follow would be the abolition of all confessional education), his argument for the disestablishment of the Church of England on human rights grounds interesting. If equality is his overriding concern (that is, discrimination on the grounds of religion), it might be observed that, while the King or Queen of the British State may not be Roman Catholic, they may now (since 2013) at least marry a Roman Catholic. The King of the Vatican State may not only not marry; he may never be a queen. Where’s the equality in that? Moreover, the King of the Vatican may not be a Protestant (setting aside debates about whether the current occupant of the Throne of St Peter is Anglican), which, in an age of ecumenism and tolerance, is rather.. well, bigoted, isn’t it?
Ah, you interject, the Vatican is Catholic HQ: it stands to reason that its Head of State must be Roman Catholic, otherwise the whole Magisterium would collapse under the weight of doctrinal corruption, ecclesial conflict and moral confusion. And yet Dr Lucie-Smith appears to have no respect for the fact that the Monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. If the ‘anti-Catholic’ provision of the Act of Settlement 1701 were repealed, a Roman Catholic would be able to become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, with direct responsibility not only to appoint bishops and archbishops, but, in accordance with the Coronation Oath, to “preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them”. Given that a Roman Catholic monarch would take the view that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void”, it is hard to see how the Church of England would survive at all (unless, of course, a Roman Catholic monarch were constrained in their consciences by law, which would doubtless cause Fr Alexander to pen another article).
If Protestant Prince George were to marry a Roman Catholic, canon law (1125) requires her to do all within her power to raise her children in the Roman Catholic faith. Would it be acceptable for that ‘power’ to be constrained by statute, in order to sustain the Anglican Settlement? Would her bishop thereby withhold consent for the wedding to take place? Dr Lucie-Smith is arguing not only for Roman Catholics to be able to succeed to the Throne, but for that Throne to be stripped of its spiritual heart. He wants a Roman Catholic to reign on a secular throne, which would, he avers, be ‘neutral’.
What, then, does this Roman Catholic monarch do when presented with a Bill to legalise abortion up to birth? A Bill to abolish all faith schools? A Bill to permit a man to marry two or more wives? A Bill to permit a man to marry his sister, or a brother to marry his brother? A Bill to legalise euthanasia? Would Fr Alexander counsel his king to follow his conscience (in obedience to canon law), refuse Royal Assent and precipitate a constitutional crisis? Or would he counsel his king to follow the example of King Baudouin of Belgium, who, unable in 1990 in conscience to legalise abortion, abdicated for a few days while the Belgian Parliament assumed his authority and enacted the law. “The Vatican described the king’s action as a ‘noble and courageous choice’ dictated by a ‘very strong moral conscience’. Others have suggested that Baudouin’s action was ‘little more than a gesture’, since he was reinstated as king just 44 hours after he was removed from power.” Would Fr Alexander really prefer to see a Roman Catholic on the British Throne who comes and goes like the karma chameleon?
Might it not be that our “archaic succession laws”, as he terms them, are worth preserving because, as Jacob Rees-Mogg observed during the parliamentary debates on the Succession to the Crown Act 2013:
We need time to consider constitutional issues properly, because they have complex knock-on effects and their phraseology is crucial to how the Crown might pass in future. If mistakes are made now, we could discover that we end up with consequences that we do not want, or indeed—this comes back to my amendments to this allocation of time motion—that we are not able to consider matters that are very pertinent to parts of the Bill because the phrasing is too narrow and things have been done within a time limit that makes it very hard to extend into these issues.
My amendments seek to allow for an instruction to be debated that would widen the scope of the Bill to include the consequence of a marriage to a Catholic. I speak as a Catholic or, in the terminology of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, as a “Papist”—as a member of the “Popish” religion—and I am happy to do so. I find no shame in being called that; I rather prefer it to the more politically correct phraseology of “person of the Roman Catholic faith”, which is rather middle-management-speak, if I may say so.
It is proposed in the Bill that a Catholic may marry an heir to the throne but may not then maintain the succession by bringing up a child of that marriage as a Catholic. The reason I object to that is because it is an attack on the teaching of the Catholic Church. Canon 1125 states specifically that the bishop, who can give a dispensation for a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic, is not to do so unless
“the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church”.
When I got married, it was with great pleasure and joy that I was able to make that promise, because there is no finer thing to be able to pass on to one’s children than one’s own religion; there is nothing finer than to have that hope of faith, that joy of salvation that comes from passing on what has come from one’s own forebears through the generations. In this Bill and under this allocation of time motion, the House is not allowed to consider the natural consequence of what is being proposed by Her Majesty’s Government. I would therefore like the amendment to be made so that we are able to consider the natural consequences of what the legislation proposes.
I would like us to also be able to amend the legislation so that a child of such a marriage that the law would allow could be a Catholic, but to protect the position of the Church of England, which obviously cannot be led by a non-member of that Church, so that under the Regency Act 1937 a regent would be appointed to take on the role of Supreme Governor of the Church of England and to hold the title “Defender of the Faith”—a papal title that has been taken by the Crown since the reign of Henry VIII. That is an entirely logical extension of what is proposed in the Bill and time ought to be allowed to debate it, because when we start these changes and decide that in this modern age we need to be more politically correct and allow Catholics to marry into the throne, we have to consider the consequence.
The consequence of what is being proposed is to leave in the deeply hostile anti-Catholic language contained in the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights. Such language would not conceivably be used by any Member of this House in this more modern age. The consequence is to leave all that, but to take out just a few words. If I may, Mr Speaker, it might be worth my reading out a little of this language:
“And whereas it hath beene found by Experience that it is inconsistent with the Safety and Welfaire of this Protestant Kingdome to be governed by a Popish Prince or by any King or Queene marrying a Papist the said Lords Spirituall and Temporall and Commons doe further pray that it may be enacted That all and every person and persons that is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall professe the Popish Religion or shall marry a Papist shall be excluded and be for ever uncapeable to inherit possesse or enjoy the Crowne and Government of this Realme”.
We are proposing to remove from that fewer than a dozen words and leave the main substance intact. I would happily accept no change at all, because that is the history of our nation.
It is indeed the history of our nation; and as complex, convoluted, traumatic and occasionally offensive as it might have been or may still be, it remains our Christian history, and its integrity is worth preserving in England every bit as much as the Vatican might seek to preserve its own. Jacob Rees-Mogg clearly grasps the danger of unintended consequences. What a pity the Catholic Herald now sides with the extremist secularists, agitating for disestablishment, unsettling the Settlement, thereby paving the way for President Blair. Is not a little residual anti-Catholicism a price worth paying to keep Christianity at the heart of the State? If not, would Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith please consider amending canon law (1125) to remedy a great injustice and smear against loyal and faithful Protestants?