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Can the British Monarch be Catholic?

By the Epopt in Culture
Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 04:14:08 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Catholics have given a mixed reaction to calls from The Guardian newspaper in London for changes to Britain's 1701 Act of Settlement, which requires that all monarchs after Anne must be in communion with the Church of England -- and forbids them from marrying "papists" -- Catholics. The act was introduced during widespread persecution of Catholics and declares that only Protestant heirs of Princess Sophia, granddaughter of King James I, may take the British throne. Neither Catholics, nor those who marry a Catholic, nor those born out of wedlock, may remain in the line of succession.

The Guardian said the act was outdated and could be in breach of Britain's obligations under European human rights law. But the paper's call was not universally welcomed by Catholics. A spokesman for Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster told the paper: "Changing the Act of Settlement would raise wider constitutional issues that would need careful thought and wide consultation."

John Wilkins, editor of The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly magazine, said in an interview with The Guardian: "There is a clear infringement of religious liberty. I think the act is a real anachronism and frankly insulting. I am sure Prince Charles thinks so too. That does not mean I support getting rid of the monarchy. There is a fear that this is the thread which, when pulled, unravels the whole constitution."

Ann Widdecombe, a leading Member of Parliament in the opposition Conservative Party and a convert to Catholicism, said repeal would be inappropriate as long as the sovereign was also supreme governor of the Church of England. "The sovereign can't be anything but a member of the Church of England until it is disestablished -- and that would remove the last fig leaf of any claim to be a Christian country," she said.

Another Catholic convert, Charles Moore, editor of The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, said: "I would be prepared to see the Act of Settlement reformed. I think a Catholic or a Jew or a Muslim could in fact be supreme governor of the Church of England. It is not a theological role, it is a question of a balance of power in politics."

The Guardian said that the Act of Settlement violates article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of though, conscience, and religion. "In addition," the paper said, "it breaches article 1 of protocol 1, the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions -- in this case the banned descendants' place in the line of succession -- and article 14, banning discrimination in relation to any convention right."

Scotland's Parliament backed a call to abolish the act in December 1999 and will soon be debating the issue again.


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The Supreme Governor of the Church of England must be ...
o ... Anglican. 6%
o ... not an atheist. 2%
o ... a human being. 6%
o ... nuts. 23%
o ... British. 16%
o ... removed. 12%
o ... well-dressed. 10%
o ... Inoshiro. 21%

Votes: 125
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o The Guardian
o Church of England
o The Tablet
o constituti on
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o The Daily Telegraph
o European Convention on Human Rights
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o Also by the Epopt

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Can the British Monarch be Catholic? | 30 comments (29 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Possibly outdated... (3.00 / 7) (#1)
by theboz on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 12:18:12 PM EST

I would definitely say that this issue should be voted on and discussed. I would think that the British have a diverse enough culture that there are people from all walks of life under their government. As an American, I don't really understand the point of a monarch, especially when they have no real power so I may not have a clear view of this. But, from the information presented to me here I would say it is an outdated policy. However, at the same time it appears that the monarch is a person who should represent the country, so if the majority of people are of the anglican church, maybe it's still a little too soon to remove this law.


not so easy (4.00 / 2) (#2)
by mikpos on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 12:31:44 PM EST

Queen Elizabeth II is not just the Queen of England; she is the head of state of sixteen countries. I suppose the British Parliaments could make this decision on their own, but there would probably be a lot of unhappy people.

[ Parent ]
Monarchs without power (none / 0) (#30)
by pete stevens on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 09:33:48 AM EST

" As an American, I don't really understand the point of a monarch, especially when they have no real power so I may not have a clear view of this. " As a Brit, I hold on to the slim chance that one day the Queen will get pissed off and behead Tony 'Smarmy' Blair. Hopefully, in the spirit of being politcally impartial she'll do over Willam '14 pints' Hague at the same time too.
.... the Flat Earth Society announced in 1995 that their membership was global
[ Parent ]
Coming to terms... (3.18 / 16) (#4)
by Signal 11 on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 12:49:10 PM EST

Alright, first, this is a non-american story, and I'm an american. By rights, I shouldn't care about this at all. Well, damn you all anyway, because I do.

This is very interesting. Not far from the birthplace of the Magna Carta is a country that is questioning human rights versus religion. This is a monumentally big deal, and will, without question, test the character of the British in the matter. In my own country, we have countries that are bidding defiance to our own union - the southern states - with religious prattle. Things such as outlawing darwinism and mandating school prayer or "moments of silence". Stapling copies of the 10 commandments in every classroom, etc. In Europe religion may, in time, weaken the European Union as well. What strange irony that Europe and the United States try to be at odds with as many issues as possible, yet have so much in common.

Interesting times, indeed.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Not really... (none / 0) (#26)
by nickwkg on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:32:28 PM EST

...because no-one in the UK really cares that much. A recent poll (Guardian I think) had 50% of people wanting a republic, but not too bothered about it. Similarly religion is not really believed in either - most people are agnostic, going to church for weddings and funerals only.

So really Europe and the US do not "have so much in common"

[ Parent ]
Mistaken Identity (2.62 / 8) (#5)
by End on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 01:03:21 PM EST

This has nothing to do with religion. Neither the Catholic church and the Church of England are religious institutions; they have both been political institutions from their inception. They have little or nothing to do with Christianity. They were both born out of political considerations and continue to be tools of political power. The "religious right" in america has nothing on these guys.

England ought to get rid of these silly laws which pretend that there is a difference between the two churches, or that England is a "christian" country anymore. It's really too bad that their morals have gone down the tubes, but maybe if they ended the hypocrisy it would do more good than harm.


No, the CofE is a Christian church (4.33 / 3) (#9)
by pw201 on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 08:43:56 PM EST

This has nothing to do with religion. Neither the Catholic church and the Church of England are religious institutions; they have both been political institutions from their inception. They have little or nothing to do with Christianity. They were both born out of political considerations and continue to be tools of political power.

This is just wrong, I'm afraid. While it is true that the CofE has some residue of political influence in the UK, it is still a church. Like any church, within it there are undoubtedly people are who are there for their own gain, but there are also real Christians of various hues, from evangelicals to Anglo-Catholics to liberals.

I suppose that there was once a time when people went to church to be seen as socially acceptable, but that is no longer true in this country. From what I'm told of the USA, it may be more true there still.

England ought to get rid of these silly laws which pretend that there is a difference between the two churches, or that England is a "christian" country anymore. It's really too bad that their morals have gone down the tubes, but maybe if they ended the hypocrisy it would do more good than harm.

On the whole, I do think that the CofE should be disestablished. I think that establishment can make things too cosy for a church, and I think it is meaningless in a country where most people are not Christians. Other people disagree though, as to do this would probably mean the CofE became less able to reach out to people through being the "official" church. Still, I think the nonsense of the CofE being required to baptise, marry and bury people who have never otherwise seen a church has to stop.

But the Queen can only be a Catholic if the CofE becomes separate from her, it seems to me. Currently, I don't think there is any hypocrisy in her being the head of the church on Earth, as she herself has spoken of her Christian faith.

[ Parent ]

The Act should stay. (3.25 / 12) (#6)
by Kiss the Blade on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 01:37:33 PM EST

It is extremely unlikely that the royal family will convert to Catholicism, or that an heir to the throne will appear who is Catholic. This means that the law is effectively redundant, except for the sort of stirrers who take needless offense. I consider myself a conservative, so why change something that lies at the heart of the British Constitution without any real idea of the consequences? The only people who actually care are Guardian reading bleeding-heart liberals, who insist on trying to dismantle every facet of the British identity that they can get their hands on.

Yes, the law is outdated, and was enacted at a different time under very different circumstances, but at the moment it harms nobody and so much cruft has built around it that it is, in my opinion, dangerous to tinker with. Why bother?

KTB:Lover, Poet, Artiste, Aesthete, Programmer.
There is no contradiction.

broken windows (none / 0) (#24)
by codemonkey_uk on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 09:51:04 AM EST

If I can start with a quote:
"In inner cities, some buildings are beautiful and clean, while others are rotting hulks. Why? Researchers in the field of crime and urban decay discovered a faciniating trigger mechanism, one that very quickly turns a clean, intact, inhabited building into a smashed and abandoned derelict. One broken window, left unrepaired for a substantial length of time, instills in the inhabitants of the building a sense of abandonment - a sense that the powers that be don't care about the building. So another window gets broken ... the sense of abandoment becomes reality." - Andrew Hunt & David Thomas
So, you can see, there is a disire to "fix" the "broken" law. If it causes trouble now, so be it, it is saving more trouble in the long run.

I think the people behind this consider it a human rights issue, and as is often said in these forums, when it comes to human rights, you have to defend the little ones or you wont be able to defend the big ones.
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]

I don't see the problem (4.00 / 6) (#7)
by jesterzog on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 03:09:30 PM EST

While I don't agree with the concept of a monarchy in the first place (I live in a British colony ruled by it from the exact opposite side of the world), I don't see a problem with the act.

The role of the King or Queen of England is to be the head of the English church. It's only been since Elizabeth I, but that's not really importatant because these days it's very fundamental. Human rights movements don't force directors to hire men for women's parts, so why should they force the Anglican church to have a catholic at it's head?

For things to change would mean separating the church from the state. Doing so would probably pretty much destroy the concept of having a Royal Family entirely. (At least a highly regarded one, anyway.) This might happen in the future, but as long as they're connected, it doesn't make sense to change the act.

If a king or queen wants to marry a Catholic, they can. They just have to abdicate first, because it's not possible to do both things at the same time. They hypocritically contradict each other.

jesterzog Fight the light

I disagree (3.50 / 2) (#12)
by boxed on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 10:31:09 PM EST

For things to change would mean separating the church from the state. Doing so would probably pretty much destroy the concept of having a Royal Family entirely.
This has already been done in Sweden. Works fine as far as I can see.

[ Parent ]
Queen heads church *and* state (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by goonie on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 07:46:29 PM EST

The trouble is that the royal family is *both* the head of the Church of England and the British (and Oz and NZ) head of state. At least in the case of Britain, they wield very real (if unused) constitutional power. I see the idea of combining religious and political authority as completely wrong, and I don't think I'm alone in that view.

[ Parent ]
No they can't (2.20 / 5) (#8)
by enterfornone on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 04:24:34 PM EST

The monarch of England is head of the Church of England. It is very much a theological role. Allowing a Catholic to be Queen of England would be like allowing a Jew to become Pope.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
exactly! (2.50 / 2) (#11)
by boxed on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 10:29:14 PM EST

Wouldn't that be a cool gesture? Putting a jew in the place as the pope would surely be a great leap ecumenically. The judean religions ought to acknowledge their similarities more imho.

[ Parent ]
Errmm, yeah (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by Aidan_Kehoe on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 02:23:59 AM EST

But they can marry a jew, or a muslim. Which is to say, the next heir to the thrown can marry one of the Pakistani royal family, but not one of the Spanish royal family. A bit arbitrary, surely.

There is no TRUTH. There is no REALITY. There is no CONSISTENCY. There are no ABSOLUTE STATEMENTS. I'm very probably wrong. -- BSD fortune(6)
[ Parent ]
they can? (2.00 / 1) (#16)
by enterfornone on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 04:16:32 PM EST

Wasn't the reason that the royal family assasinated princess di because she was planning to marry a muslim. And she wasn't even a blood royal.

I'm fairly sure they have to marry a COE. Unfortunately there is no Pope comparison on this one.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Jews and Christianity (none / 0) (#23)
by dabadab on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 08:20:16 AM EST

"would be like allowing a Jew to become Pope"

Well, yeah, just imagine, this Jesus guy could be a Pope, well, THAT would be a shame ;)

Real life is overrated.
[ Parent ]

Does it matter? (3.20 / 5) (#10)
by hoss10 on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 09:25:51 PM EST

This isn't really a church vs. state matter. If the law applied to the Prime Minister then it would, but the Monarch is a ceremonial position.

The King/Queen can be head of any religion that offers them the job, in my opinion!

Just get rid of the Monarch right to veto (hasn't been used since the 18th century and isn't likely to ever be used again anyway) to make sure the separation between State and Monarchy is complete.

Hrm. (4.50 / 2) (#13)
by Kiss the Blade on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 12:53:36 AM EST

I think that one of the good things about having a monarchy is the right to veto. The Monarch and the state are inseperable, and rightly so. If they were not, then the Monarch would not be worthy of the name.

The Monarch fulfills a lot of extremely important functions in the British state, and is (theoreticaly) empowered to behave like a despot. The Army, police force, civil service, Navy etc etc all swear allegiance to the Monarch. The Queen can veto any bill she sees fit.

Of course, it may seem that such considerations are unimportant, because they are never exercised. But who can tell when they may be needed? The Monarchy may seem outdated to some, but in Spain in the 70's it was the main reason that the fascist coup failed (the Army was loyal to the King, who made a national appeal). I like the fact that in order for a bill to become law, it has to be signed by a dowdy old woman in a big house. It lends stability to the governing system.

After all, Britain hasn't had a revolution since Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century. Why tinker with something that appears to work so well?

KTB:Lover, Poet, Artiste, Aesthete, Programmer.
There is no contradiction.
[ Parent ]

Minor correction (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by ElMiguel on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 07:07:37 PM EST

The Monarchy may seem outdated to some, but in Spain in the 70's it was the main reason that the fascist coup attempt failed
In fact the coup attempt was in '81. It was only 6 years after the death of Franco, Spain's former dictator; the King did have an important role in the transition to democracy those days.

Today democracy in Spain is firmy established, and the role of the King seems less important, but I also feel that it lends stability to the government. As I see it, pros of monarchy over other more democratic possibilities for the Head of State are that the Monarch doesn't belong to a political party, so it is more difficult to accuse him/her of partiality, and that it doesn't change often, inspiring more 'loyalty' to the people.

In short, monarchy works well for Spain, although the British don't seem very happy with their Royal Family.

[ Parent ]

The Church of England should be disestablished... (4.20 / 5) (#15)
by itsbruce on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 10:48:57 AM EST

... then it wouldn't be a problem.

Being the official State Church has emasculated the C of E. It's just a social club, a mark of belonging. People who are never think about religion in their daily life and who mostly only go to church once a year, for the Christmas service, can use this fiction to call themselves Christian when they are really nothing of the kind. That kind of "christian" makes up the majority of the C of E's notional membership and it has had a devastating effect. The C of E is more of a joke to many people than anything else. Pick any of the other religions or Christian churches in Britain and you'll find them more vigorous, even if they do have smaller memberships on paper.

As things stand, the fact that the Monarch can't marry a Catholic is important. The Crown is more than a symbol, it's the constitutional foundation of the British state. I wish it weren't but it is. As the centrepiece of the state, it shouldn't carry these remnants of institutionalised bigotry, especially now that anti-Catholic sentiment has almost entirely disappeared from mainstream British life.

As an atheist and a republican (in the constitutional sense) I was temped to post "The axe doesn't care what religion the neck subscribes to.". But since Britain isn't about to become a republic any time soon (though there's a sliver of hope for a future Scottish Republic), I thought I'd say something else.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
Supreme Governor (3.83 / 6) (#17)
by bigbird on Sun Jan 07, 2001 at 05:16:21 PM EST

Why not just remove the royal family from the position of Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Then the head of state can be Catholic (as were the English monarchs up to Henry VIII), or whatever religion makes your day without making the slightest difference. You could then avoid any constitutional crisis, and have no concerns regarding freedom of religion, etc.

Correct me if I recall incorrectly, but the church of England was formed after Henry VIII wanted a divorce, and was refused one by the Pope. Forming his own church (Henry was trained for the priesthood, IIRC) solved that little dilemma, and allowed him to divorce and behead wives at a fierce rate.

I still laugh thinking about how upset people got over Chuck's divorce, and how much concern there still is about a divorced Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Whatever. Henry VIII beat out Prince Charles on the divorce and remarriage issue, in spades, and he founded the church of England, fer cryin' out loud. Imagine the furor if Charles had handed Diana her head. Literally. And married Camilla shortly therafter. Ahhh, the middle ages - those were the days.

Call me a literalist, but I thought Christ was supposed to be the supreme governor of the Christian church, anyways. Nice of the English monarchy to keep the seat warm the past 500 years or so, though.


For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16

Who cares?1 (3.80 / 5) (#20)
by PenguinWrangler on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 06:19:36 AM EST

Personally I couldn't give a toss, let's face it, the major function of the Royals is to give newspaper hacks something to write about on a slow news day and to entice big fat American tourists to go "Gee Hiram, it's buckinghieam palace" and get in the fucking way of people who are trying to go about their business...
Nobody gives a fuck, because when it comes to the everyday running of this country the Royals have no real say. They're just a bunch of figureheads to impress the tourists...

"Information wants to be paid"
not entirely true (1.00 / 1) (#21)
by mikpos on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 11:34:39 AM EST

First off, if you don't care, maybe you should read something else. You don't have to read every story on k5 you know, and you don't have to post to every story.

That said, do you have any supporting evidence whatsoever? The Royal Family is a great icon of elegance and tradition and whatnot, serving as maybe a sort of identity. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of people that are interested in the Royal Family. Witness the thousdands upon thousands of people who show up to catch a glimpse of them or attend functions like weddings and funerals, thousands of people who I'm guessing wouldn't like to be categorised as "nobody".

[ Parent ]

Identity? Nah, power! (none / 0) (#22)
by leviathan on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 01:22:49 PM EST

The important thing about the royals is not their pulling power over us tourists, or their alleged hold over the hearts and souls of their people.

The important thing is that power apparently has to derive from somewhere. Below the Queen, power splits between the courts and the church. The church is the Church of England, and the highest court is the House of Lords. From out of the House of Lords springs the Commons, and these days it is mostly the conflict between the Commons and the judiciary (the courts) which establishes the balance we need for a western form of society. In the past, the church held a lot more power, and the balance was split along different lines.

What is important, however, is that the royalty doesn't exercise their (much diminished) right to rule, but is the root of the power that feeds the competing bodies of the church and state (and within that, the courts and parliament). Things get messy if you don't have one root of power.

That's the only reason for the status quo as I see it, other that 'it ain't broke, don't fix it'. I'm not even going to get started on the reasons why it should be changed.

The above is to the best of my knowledge, of course, and if anyone knows any better I'd be very interested. It applies only to England, of course. Wales and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies, and Scotland has its parliament which all fit in somewhere under the Queen. I have no idea what happens in the colonies.

I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert
[ Parent ]

hang on... (none / 0) (#25)
by nickwkg on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:22:34 PM EST

...are you actually a Brit. No-one I know thinks that "The Royal Family is a great icon of elegance and tradition".

Monarchy propmotes one small group of people above others for hereditary reasons, and even if only sybolic nowadays, is completely the wrong kind of symbol for a modern European state.

[ Parent ]
irrelevant (none / 0) (#27)
by mikpos on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:57:20 PM EST

I wasn't saying whether the Monarchy is good or bad; I was just responding to the argument that "nobody" cares if it exists or not. I was trying to parrot the argument of Monarchists (people who might actually care).

[ Parent ]
A connection? (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by Jin the Wicked on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 03:48:07 AM EST

Hmm. Monarch has no power, people saying that the Church of England is just a big club and a political organization...monarchy is a national symbol...eliminating the monarchy would cause constitutional issues and maybe even destroy it?! I wish it were that easy to get rid of the US government.

Let's just gather up all the "liberal hippies" that legislator from the flag-burning article is so afraid of, and send them to England to mess with their "national symbols" instead.

I'm sure he'd be pleased to be rid of them, and I'd get a free visit to England.

think about it (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by fluxrad on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 08:48:48 AM EST

the monarchy can be anything they want. keep in mind that untill Henry the VIII, the monarchy was completely catholic. The religion du jour was changed to a protestant faith because the pope at the time refused to grant Henry a divorce from his current wife. so, he says fugggit, and basically creates his own church to achieve his own secular ends.

so the question of whether catholics should be allowed in the monarchy is kind of a silly one. Of course they should be, they were up until several hundred years ago.

now....how to get a catholic into the monarchy.

"i'll knock the queen out with chloroform, you tie her ankles and give her her confirmation!"

"It is seldom liberty of any kind that is lost all at once."
-David Hume
Can the British Monarch be Catholic? | 30 comments (29 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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