Gordon Brown is the latest in a long line to call for the repeal of the part of the 1701 Act of Settlement which bans Roman Catholics and those married to Roman Catholics from becoming our monarch. He also wants to change the line of succession so that it is the eldest child, not the eldest male child, who succeeds.
The latter proposal seems sensible to me. There is no reason for males to be put ahead of females, especially not in the modern world. The proposal to allow Roman Catholics to ascend to the throne is more problematic though. Firstly there is the issue of the Church of England. The monarch is the supreme governor of the Church of England and so for a Roman Catholic to take the throne they would either have to renounce their religion, or the church would have to be separated from the state. I don’t have a problem with the disestablishmentarian position, so perhaps the separation of church and state (and the expulsion of the bishops from the House of Lords) would be the best way forward.
The 1701 act was conceived at a very different time, when William III was on the throne. He had no children, his wife had died and it looked likely that the throne would pass first to the Protestant Anne, then possibly to James II or his children (all of whom were Catholic). James II had only been deposed twelve years previously, and he still had supporters in the British, particularly from some Tories, Irish and Scots. He also had the backing of foreign continental powers, most notably Louis XIV (William III’s great enemy). To allow a Catholic the opportunity to take the throne was to risk another civil war. This problem has clearly disappeared.
Yet this still leaves the problem of (the little-used) papal infallibility and the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic church. The decline of general councils (which were originally more powerful than the pope) means that the church is very centralised, in a way that no other religion is. The pope is the head of the church, and he decides what is correct, which has been problematic for Roman Catholic politicians, who have found themselves refused communion.
This isn’t problematic in of itself. When you belong to a centralised body of your own free will, you have to expect that said will dictate certain things to you. But how would this work when the monarch is the person that signs bills into law? Would a Roman Catholic monarch refuse to sign a bill that went against church teachings? Would they risk excommunication because of it? If they refused to sign a bill into law then this would provoke a constitutional crisis. Perhaps this is an exaggerated reading of a situation, but I am not so sure.
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Filed in: Current affairs,History,Religion,Sex equality