Friday, March 27, 2009

Rolling Back the English Reformation, Inch by Inch

For more than three hundred years, the law of England has deprived both Catholics and those married to Catholics of the right of succession to the throne. Or, as the Act of Settlement of 1700 (official text) charmingly puts it:

...all and every Person and Persons who shall or may take or inherit the said Crown by vertue of the Limitation of this present Act and is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall profess the Popish Religion or shall marry a Papist shall be subject to such Incapacities as in such Case or Cases are by the said recited Act provided enacted and established....
The "Incapacities" are that such person or persons shall be
made for ever [incapable] to inherit possess or enjoy the Crown and Government of this Realm and Ireland and the Dominions thereunto belonging or any part of the same or to have use or exercise any regall Power Authority or Jurisdiction within the same....
Now there is talk of amending the Act of Settlement. A lot of attention is being given to the proposal to abolish the preference in English law for male heirs to the throne, even to the detriment of older female heirs; however, it is also proposed to remove the disability that results from a prospective heir marrying a Catholic. According to a BBC poll, 89% of the British public support the proposed abolition of the male preference, and 81% think prospective heirs to the throne should be permitted to marry Catholics without being knocked out of the line of succession. It is not proposed that the disability resulting from a prospective heir being Catholic himself be removed; if these changes to the law are adopted, Catholics themselves will still have no place in the line of succession.

Now, of course, I am a citizen of a country that fought a war to get out from under the rule of British monarchs, so as far as the political aspect of this problem goes, I am a complete outsider. But as a Catholic with hot Mediterranean and Celtic blood coursing through her veins, I find it difficult to read with patience some of the comments in the British press about the prospect of Catholics coming a step closer to the royal succession. Clearly, not a few people are operating out of prejudice, rather than a sound grasp of the facts about Catholicity. It is proposed, for example, that the loyalty of a Catholic is open to question: "Would Britain be prepared to accept a King whose Queen Consort owed at least part of her allegiance to the Pope, and who might consequently insist that their children were brought up as Roman Catholics?" After all, as it is argued, the Pope considers himself superior to all other rulers, and is told so at his coronation. And yet, it is hoped that perhaps the Pope might exempt English monarchs from the requirement that Catholic parents raise their children up in the Faith. "The Pope might feel that a change in law to end one form of discrimination merited a concession from him to avoid creating another."

It is difficult, I repeat, to read such nonsense with equanimity. And yet such notions reveal more about the Church of England than they do about the Catholic Church. These outpourings are clearly the product of an inability -- bred over centuries -- to separate politics from faith, or to distinguish between that which belongs to Caesar and that which belongs to God. They are the product of a materialistic world view that recognizes no transcending spiritual realities. They constitute an implicit admission that the Church of England lays no claim -- and indeed cannot lay any claim -- to the universality that is a mark of the true Church founded by Christ, Who commanded His disciples to go forth and make disciples of all nations. They demonstrate the extent to which members of the Church of England have been influenced by the example of their own communion which, having long ago detached itself from the True Vine, has abandoned Truth for the sake of convenience -- a development that is lamented even in Britain. They demonstrate an ignorance of English history, of life in (very) Catholic England before Henry VIII, the origins of the Church of England, and the consequences of England's revolt. Not the least of which consequences is the "can of ecclesiastical worms," as one commentator puts it, that is now being opened, gradually.

But cans of worms are what we get when we try to do things our own way, instead of walking the path that has been laid out for us. Meanwhile, painful operations and bitter medicines bring about cures, proving that that which hurts may in fact be for the best.

So expose the worms to the light of day, painful though it may be -- even if it has to be done one worm at a time.


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  2. I realise that this is a very old post but thought I should mention one or two things.

    (1) This proposed change in the law is a desperate measure by our Labout governement to win back the Catholic vote which the have recently lost due to adoption legislation and attacks on Catholic schools.

    (2) Most 'serious' Catholics, ie the orthodox ones, are dead against this change. It has little constitutional impact, deals in wild hypothetical speculation about the private lives of a single family, and because given the precarious nature of Christianity in the secularist West, any attack on the established (Anglican) Church is likely to prove a defeat for Christianity as a whole.

    Let's hope the law is NOT changed!