Monday 25 April 2011

Why Clegg is wrong to accept Church veto on scrapping anti-Catholic Royal law

Anybody in line to the throne who wishes to marry a Roman Catholic must give up their place in the succession, unless their spouse-to-be relinquishes their faith.

As The Observer's editorial noted on Sunday, this is a specific anti-Catholic prohibition.

The prohibition on an heir marrying a Catholic, while remaining free to marry a Methodist, Muslim, atheist or Jedi Knight, is indefensible bigotry. (The separate condition that the monarch must be a member of the Church of England raises broader questions about the established church.)

Now The Telegraph reports that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has now been persuaded that this can't be changed.

Mr Clegg was initially attracted to the idea of repealing the Act but is said to have been persuaded that the difficulties raised by the Anglican Church were insurmountable.

It is odd that Clegg has thrown in the towel so easily on such a modest reform in the face of such weak and ill-founded objections. Remember that Clegg has promised to bring about the greatest constitutional reforms since 1832 (which rather implausibly means outstripping both the universal franchise and votes for women, not just devolution and freedom of information). Clegg demonstrates that he is more constitutionally conservative on this issue than John Selwyn Gummer, the former Tory cabinet minster who was an active member of the Church of England Synod before converting to Catholicism, and who sponsored private legislation to challenge this prohibition on Catholics.

Gummer described it as an "outrage" - but Clegg is reported to now understand and accept the obstacles to changing it. He spoke at ippr last Thursday of his self-image of being an insurgent crusader against vested interests, suffering a backlash for that reason. There is no evidence of that here.

The Church of England's reasoning conflates two issues - the religion of a Monarch, and of their spouse - in order to claim that treating Catholic spouses similarly to those of any other faith threatenss the Establishment of the Church.

The Church told the Telegraph this:

The prohibition on those in the line of succession marrying Roman Catholics derives from an earlier age and inevitably looks anomalous, not least when there is no prohibition on marriage to those of other faiths or none.

“But if the prohibition were removed the difficulty would still remain that establishment requires the monarch to join in communion with the Church of England as its Supreme Governor and that is not something that a Roman Catholic would be able to do consistently with the current rules of that church.”

The conflation depends on believing that Catholics always get the children.

The argument is still an illogical objection to the reform which is being proposed - that the prohibition on marrying a Catholic should go, without changing the separate requirement for the Monarch to themselves be a member of the Established Church.


Anonymous said...

And they wonder that catholics feel second class...?

David Lindsay said...

There is a certain Spot The Deliberate Mistake quality to proposals to make the monarchy more egalitarian or (God help us all) "meritocratic". The Act of Settlement is good for us Catholics. It reminds us that we are different, and it does us the courtesy of taking our beliefs seriously by identifying them as a real challenge.

I question the viability of a Catholic community which devotes any great energy to the question of ascending the throne while the born sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets and the pre-born are ripped from their mothers' wombs to be discarded as surgical waste. Far from being a term of abuse, the word "Papist" is in fact the name under which the English Martyrs gave their lives, and expresses the cause for which they did so, making it a badge of honour, to be worn with pride.

The Protestant tradition is a fact of this country's history and culture. No good purpose would be served by denying it its constitutional recognition. And we must never countenance alliance with those who wish to remove Christianity as the basis of our State. Parties, such as the Lib Dems or the SNP, that wish to abolish Catholic schools need not imagine that noisily seeking to repeal the Act of Settlement somehow makes their position any better.

As for male primogeniture, it, too, sends an important signal: that the male line matters means that fathers matter, and that they have to face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance (including censure where necessary) from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

On matters such as this, we should listen to the voice of Recusancy, currently in the Commons (as it has been largely "reformed" - what an appropriate word! - out of the Lords) the voice of the gloriously anti-war Edward Leigh more than anyone. He has no time for this proposal, and rightly sees the whole thing as an excuse to bring the question of the monarchy to the floor of other Parliaments, particularly in Australia.

There is only one circumstance under which these changes could begin to be justified, namely that any Realm or Territory may leave the family defined by our shared monarch unless they were given effect, though not otherwise. Which is considering doing so?

Sunder Katwala said...

I am also a Catholic, as it happens, but there is a very broad consensus against sectarianism and anti-Catholic bigotry, certainly on the Old Firm terraces and perhaps on the statute book too.

There has been broad support in both Houses for these changes. Edward Leigh is an exception.

Your Republican conspiracy theory does not cover the motives of say Jeffrey Archer in proposing an end to primogeniture in 1998, of Alf Dubs of doing likewise later, or of John Selwyn Gummer in proposing to end this in 2007.

You say they can only be considered if a different realm wishes to drop the Monarchy. Why could they not be considered because most British people think they are sensible, or because most Parliamentarians thought so?

David Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Lindsay said...

The Old Firm? Now you are just being cheap. The Catholic Church now has barely any connection to the subculture around Celtic Football Club. As I have repeatedly been told, "There are two types of Catholic in the West of Scotland, the middle-class ones who go to Mass, and the working-class ones [if they can still be so described] who go to Celtic". Which lot do you think staffs the Catholic schools, ostensible centres of the teaching of football-related sectarianism?

It has never really been about religion, as such, anyway. So why does no one ever mention that around a quarter of Irish immigrants to the West of Scotland were Ulster Protestants, which is how there come to be Orange Lodges there? Although they do exist, there are far fewer in the much more Protestant East. And few, if any, in the ultra-Calvinist redoubts of the North.

This whole scheme has the feel of Blairite politics and a Blairified Catholic community, the first bumbling around the Constitution in a state of perfect historical ignorance and incomprehension such as certainly did not characterise the real Labour Party, and the second concurring with it in imagining that there was nothing more important to worry about.

As a friend of mine recently put it, "The right of Catholics to ascend the Throne? How about the right of Catholics to be foster parents?" Quite.

Sunder Katwala said...

Sorry David, but you entirely missed the point of the passing reference to the Old Firm. This was not attributing sectarianism to the Catholic Church. It would make more sense to see that the comment refers more to anti-Catholic sectarianism.

The "cheap" point was simply that mainstream politics, media refer the Old Firm sectarianism (esp in the last week) on both sides very much as out of time, incomprehensible, etc - but that it is very hard to maintain that position consistently with regarding a law of such very specific anti-Catholic discrimination rooted in the attitudes of 1700 and the 1820s.

Catholics are certainly not barred from becoming foster parents. There is an argument about what the Equality Act demanded of church affiliated adoption agencies, and whether some different approach was appropriate with those who wanted to offer the service but include gay people. (Some would treat that differently from those who want to offer a service but to exclude, say, an ethnic group from it; perhaps some would defend any exclusions on any grounds?) but your friend goes OTT there. The argument doesn't really work logically as a *defence* of anti-Catholic discrimination, which is what you'd like to make of it.

Anonymous said...

How much do you know about foster care? And the process of becoming a foster carer or adopting? I assure you that orthodox Catholics are about as welcome as Owen and Eunice Johns were. And the irrelevant point about ethnic minorities is more associative smear than argument.

David Lindsay said...

It is a matter of priorities, although it is of course perfectly true that a Catholic monarch could exercise the functions of Supreme Governor of the Church of England: the Old and Young Pretenders carried on appointing Scottish Episcopal bishops right up until the latter's death, although the practice seems to have stopped when the claim passed to the next in line, Henry Benedict Stuart, a Cardinal.

But the really Fabian story here, if I may, is twofold. On the one hand, how would want, ignorance, idleness, squalor, ill health and war be combated by this change? And on the other hand, the post-1688 sense that the Williamite and then Hanoverian State, its Empire, and that Empire's capitalist ideology were somehow less than fully legitimate was passed down among Catholics, High Churchmen (and thus first Methodists and then also Anglo-Catholics), Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and others, contributing significantly to the creation of the American Republic, to the abolition of the slave trade, to the extension of the franchise, to the emergence of the Labour Movement, and to the opposition to the Boer and First World Wars. A sense of being a little bit persecuted is a great deal better than any sort of complacency.

By the way, if you want both Michael and me, then you know what you have to do.

Anonymous said...

@David - eh?

David Lindsay said...

Half the earth has ideas for a PhD. This is mine. But I don't have any money.