Friday, October 28, 2011

Why It Matters that Kate Middleton Can Be Catholic Now

This morning a certain priest (who may or may not be my putative “co-blogger” here) texted me to say, “British royal family opened to Catholics now! Time to take back the island!!” He was joking, of course, but it turns out, plenty of Brits are very worried about this exact thing.

Until yesterday, “a future monarch could marry someone of any faith except a Catholic.”  So if Kate Middleton had been a Catholic, she would have had to convert to Protestantism (or anything besides Catholicism), or the wedding couldn't have gone forward.

The rule also bars the future monarch himself from being Catholic (sorry, Prince Charles), as well as the Prime Minister.  These anti-Catholic laws remain in place: so Kate Middleton can be a Catholic, but Prince William cannot, and neither can Prime Minister David Cameron.  It was this last part that drew international attention to the discriminatory laws, because former Prime Minister Tony Blair was regularly attending Mass, but decided to wait until he left office to convert, since he would otherwise cause something of a constitutional crisis.

Allegedly, the ban on Catholic royals and Prime Ministers was because the Queen (or King) and the Prime Minister are involved in some capacity in the governance of the Church of England, the official state religion.  But this reasoning didn't bar non-Anglican Gordon Brown from becoming Prime Minister in 2007, after Blair stepped down.  And the law only forbids Catholics: Prince William could married a Muslim or a Sikh, but not a Catholic.

Beyond all this, the Queen is also the head of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian. The reality is that these positions of authority are almost completely ceremonial - it's not as if the Queen is being called upon to settle the issue of female or gay ordination, or even to decide between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism, for example.  If an Anglican can head the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, and a Presbyterian can be Prime Minister of the (Anglican) Church of England, then sectarian purity seems to be of a somewhat lower import than defenders of this law would suggest.  Where's the outrage over Gordon Brown or Queen Elizabeth?


The True Reason for the Bar Against Catholics

The true reason for the law, plainly, is anti-Catholic prejudice: the wild idea that a Catholic will be the mindless servant of the pope, and therefore, can't be a true patriot.  The fears were serious enough that the Telegraph ran an article claiming that even if the heir married a Catholic, there'd be nothing to worry about, since they'd raise their kids Anglicans (since the monarch cannot be a Catholic, still).  That suggestion already assumes that a Catholic monarch is something worth worrying about.

But the comments readers left in response to the article waxed conspiratorial.  To take a sampling of just what I've seen from the front page, there's this:

As for letting the Roman Catholics back into the succession, you can be sure that Rome will do everything in its power to ensure that any issue from such a marriage is brought up as a left-footer. This article is the start of the campaign - telling us not to worry our pretty little heads about it.
Left-footer” is a bizarre anti-Catholic slur, if you're not familiar.  Here's another of the Telegraph comments:
And if the child is secretly brought up as a catholic (mothers usually put their offspring to bed and, if religious, say goodnight prayers with them) and upon ascending the throne feels his/her allegiance is to Rome what might happen next?
What indeed?  Why not allow British heads of state to be Catholic?  There are a lot of Catholic heads of state throughout Europe.  Are any of them handing the keys of the country over to the pope?  Does Pope Benedict seem even a little like he really wants to be King of England?  Finally, this comment gets right to the heart of things:
Any sovereign sympathetic to the Catholic Church could potentially act in a manner subservient to the Pope. Personally I don't see the benefit in surrendering sovereignty to the Holy Roman Empire.
To justify this anti-Catholic prejudice, the commenter has to act like the Holy Roman Empire still exists, which it hasn't, since 1806.  And of course, even when it did exist, it wasn't as if the Holy Roman Emperor was a docile servant of the pope.

In addition to these (and many, many, many more) anti-Catholic comments, they were a lot of atheists smearing all religions.  And all this, in England!

The Sad Reality of Secular England

Once upon a time, the Crown played a central role in these things, and the Prime Minister was actually a minister.  Those days are long over.  So, for that matter, are the days of Anglicanism mattering to the British, it seems.  Currently, Anglicanism is only the third most practiced religion in England.  Despite being the official state religion, there are more practicing Catholics and Muslims than practicing Anglicans, although the fastest growing religious group are non-religious.  In fact, practicing Catholics outnumber practicing Anglicans simply because of (a) Eastern European immigration, and (b) Catholics leave the Church slower -- both religious groups are in terrible shape, and have seen their numbers halved in the last few decades.  This is made dramatically clear by the statistics compiled by the Church Society, measuring Anglican Sunday attendance from 1968 - 2009:


The change in the royal succession laws is good, in that it gets a blatantly anti-Catholic law off the books, and one that was causing heartburn as recently as 2007, with Blair's conversion.  But the sad reality is that this change is possible simply because religion of all sorts - Anglicanism, Catholicism, or theism in general - no longer seems to matter to the United Kingdom in the way that it once did.  It's largely played out as a battle between those who dislike Catholicism and those who dislike all religion.  What we're witnessing may not be the triumph of reason over anti-Catholic bigotry, but  the triumph of secularism over religion of any and all sorts.

14 comments:

  1. To the question: Can you have a Roman Catholic Prime Minster of Great Britain, Answers.com says:
    There is no simple yes or no question to this answer. While there is no express legal bar the election of a non-Anglican British Prime Minister, such a situation would be constitutionally awkward given the prime minister's role in appointing senior members of the Church of England. While theoretically, the sovereign has the ultimate power in making ecclesiastical appointments, he or she acts on the advice of the prime minister.

    Under the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829, sect. 17, and the Jews' Relief Act of 1858, sec 4, no Roman Catholic or Jew may advise the sovereign on ecclesiastical matters. Were the prime minister to be a Roman Catholic or a Jew and alternate system of ecclesiastical appointment would have to be devised.

    To date, all British Prime Ministers to date, at least while in office, have professed Anglican faith. Disraeli, while born into a Jewish family, was baptised into the Church of England at age 12 and Tony Blair waited till after he stood down from the post of prime minister to officially convert to Catholicism.
    Gordon Brown does not 'profess the Anglican faith'. His father was a Church of Scotland minister. It is unlikely that any other non-English Prime Minister would be an Anglican (e.g. Alec Douglas-Hume, Ramsey Macdonald).

    But from 13 September 2001to 29 October 2003 the leader of the Conservative Party was Iain Duncan Smith who was, and is, a Catholic. Mr Duncan Smith did not, therefore contest a UK General Election as leader of the Conservative Party but obviously could have done. If he had been successful and the Conservative Party had won such an election, he would have become the Prime Minister. During his time as leader of the Conservative Party, no one, as far as I am aware, suggested that he could not become Prime Minister on the grounds of his religion. Indeed, if such a barrier had existed then it would have been unlikely that the Conservative Party would have chose him as their leader.

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  2. I should make it clear that the last paragraph expressed my own view, not that of Answers.com

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  3. I should make it clear that the last paragraph expressed my own view, not that of Answers.com

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  4. The thing is, isn't a Catholic obligate to raise the children Catholic? Wouldn't that cause problems?

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  5. English anti-Catholicism is certainly a genuine force in the UK. But since the monarch is the "temporal head" of the Church of England, surely it's not irrelevant that he or she be Anglican!

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  6. At least your coverage mentions the word Catholic. Here in the U.S., most papers pointed to the fact that women can now enter the chain of succession, totally ignoring any mention of Catholics.

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  7. Hmm, seems that the Act of Settlment is becoming increasingly irrelevant as the Anglican Church continues to die.

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  8. The Anglican Communion is history. In a period of eight years, there were not be a single Anglican Practicing their faith. This is because the head of the Catholic Personal Ordinariate of England is getting 300 requests per day to join the Ordinariate, that equals 100,000 per year. That is 800,000 in eight years. Bye-bye Anglicanism.

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  9. Good to know I can now finally take my rightful place... ;-)

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  10. At D.A. Howard: Out of curiosity, where did you get your information on ordinariate applications?

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  11. Despite the Church of Scotland's official status in that county, the British monarch is not its head. As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the monarch officially appoints its bishops on the advice of the prime minister. But given the Presbyterian governance of the Church of Scotland with no bishops, the monarch is not its "Supreme Governor" and does not appoint its officials, even ceremonially (though she does attend Presbyterian services while in Scotland).

    The monarch's position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England must be eliminated before the Act of Settlement can be further changed to allow a Catholic to occupy the throne. The Church of England could then choose its bishops using a similar method as other Anglican Communion bodies around the world, none of which are established in their respective nation-states. Such a move wouldn't even necessitate the Church of England's official disestablishment, though that would seem a logical next step. Though it would be ironic given the Church of England's origins, some more theologically orthodox Anglicans might actually welcome that move, in that it would get civil officials out of the business of appointing bishops. So if these steps are taken and a Catholic actually does come to occupy the throne and can raise their children Catholic, an interesting question is what form the coronation would take, and would secularized Britain even allow it to be recognizably Christian, let alone Catholic.

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  12. This is really shocking to me as a Catholic I feel hurt to believe that such a law could exist. We all remember the reason why the Anglican Church was formed because Henry VIII could not keep his vows to his wife. As a Catholic I feel proud to belong to something bigger whether we are from Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Mexico etc. we are Catholic lets see the Windsors top that?

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  13. I care not a jot if a catholic becomes PM.
    What I do care about is if a muslim sneaks into that position.
    I strongly believe that it should be written into the constitution in order to prevent this country from sleepwalking into an Islamic State. Islam is growing stronger in the UK, stronger than most other EU countries.

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  14. Henry VIII should have never been allowed to marry his sister, no one was in Catherine 's and Prince Arthur's bedroom so erring on the conservative side should have prevailed. This would have meant sending widowed Catherine back to Spain to marry someone other royal house or taking monastic vows. For Henry, his father could have arranged a proxy marriage until he was of age to a Bavarian, Polish, one of many numerous Italian city State Princesses or last but more strategic a French Princess. Naturally being held virtual hostage by the Holy Roman Emperor and nephew of Catherine, Charles V, the Pope was not going to grant a decree of nultility, not a divorce as Catholics miss present to either party. England needed a male heir after the Tutor had struggled so hard to rule. England in the first place. Despite dwindling numbers few British want the theocracy and denial of dealings with crimes against humanity that truly belong to the victims of sexual abuse, not the so called murder of fetuses as the Catholic Church champions. Why was Savita's heartbeat less important than her rotting fetus which was killing her with sepsis, but we are told that as a' 'catholic county '' could not be excised even to save a dying woman's life.

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