The papal problem


by Rumbold
27th November, 2009 at 12:29 pm    

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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  1. pickles

    Blog post:: The papal problem http://bit.ly/7p2YWk


  2. David Sheen

    RT @pickledpolitics Blog post:: The papal problem http://bit.ly/7p2YWk – it's always a thorny & tricky issue.




  1. leon — on 27th November, 2009 at 3:41 am  

    This is window dressing and a distraction for anybody with a real interest in constitutional reform. We should be debating why we don't have an elected head of state.

  2. soru12 — on 27th November, 2009 at 4:58 am  

    We should be debating why we don't have an elected head of state.

    If you want to actually avoid window dressings and distractions, you need to do better than that, propose a change a post that wields real, not theoretical, power.

    How about electing the proprietor and editor of the Sun?

  3. Cauldron — on 27th November, 2009 at 5:30 am  

    I detect the hand of Mandleson behind this. Changing the Act of Settlement would remove the constitutional barriers to the House of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha being replaced by the Rome-aligned House of Blair.

    Seriously, I just can't get as worked up about constitutional reform as your average Lib Dem. Hard to see how fiddling with a constitutional document is going to make much practical difference to people's lives. Much better to focus on the practical issues of governance, like trying to get the State to do less, better.

  4. Mordaunt — on 27th November, 2009 at 5:59 am  

    The obvious precedent for the whole respect the constitution/ follow the teaching of the church dichotomy would be the King of Belgium who at one point abdicated for twenty four hours so he wouldn't have to sign a bill legalising/ liberalising abortion. So it's not an insuperable problem, of itself. Juan Carlos didn't get into trouble for signing the recent Spanish gay marriage bill into law either so clearly, as things stand, Benny and chums have other fish to fry.

    The greater problem is the increasing lack of coherence in having a constitution which was set up to hold monarch, aristocracy and commons in balance under the umbrella of an established religion which all three, in theory at least, subscribed to. None of the major parties want to talk about republicanism or disetablishment but they will have to sooner rather than later.

  5. boyo — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:02 am  

    Whatever the religion is nonsense of course, what it signifies historically however is not: two centuries of bloody slaughter and visceral loathing in the name of religions people believed very deeply in.

    Yet just a couple of centuries later we have blithely mixed opposing deeply-held beliefs – post-Christian secularism and Islam – with no consideration of the consequences. The standard PP response of course is: progress, people change, but there is actually little evidence of that – we even manage to forget only a dozen years ago the Balkans slaughter.

    But we're different they say, that was different, just one more dance…

  6. Binky — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:15 am  

    ” … the Balkans slaughter … “

    Which the Patriarch in Constantinople-Istanbul and the Pope in Rome could almost certainly have lessened [probably NOT halted completely] by jointly threatening to excommunicate the murderous Coat and Serbian butchers and going ahead and doing so.

  7. Rumbold — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:22 am  

    Good points Mordaunt. I suspect that, given Britain's history of bending the constitution, something like the Belgium plan would be tried. I didn't know about the King of Spain signing that law. Interesting.

    Boyo:

    So are you saying that there are likely to be religious massacres/wars in this country?

  8. Laban — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:23 am  

    What Binky said. Anything for votes.

  9. dave bones — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:36 am  

    I dodn't realise anyone here was a monarchist.

  10. Ravi Naik — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:41 am  

    Yet just a couple of centuries later we have blithely mixed opposing deeply-held beliefs – post-Christian secularism and Islam – with no consideration of the consequences.

    Actually we are far more diverse than that. And by all standards, the number of fundamentalists from any belief system (there is no particular reason to single out Muslims) is very small to do any damage to the fabric of our society. This is the reality in Britain and it has been for many years, and no massacres or wars or anything like the Balkans.

  11. boyo — on 27th November, 2009 at 6:46 am  

    Rumbold. I work on the basis that people are no different anywhere and there is no such thing as human progress (apart from technological). If you look at how the Jews were treated for 2000 years (including the first pogrom in York in 1200 to the Holocaust, which took place only 60 years ago), the bloody 100 years religious war across Europe, the treatment of the Catholics (Gordon Riots et al), the communal violence in India and Pakistan and Rwanda to 7/7 I see no indication that people change anywhere ever. I certainly don't think the British are uniquely blessed by tolerance and understanding.

    Therefore I think there is every chance that there will be bloody reckoning in the UK some time over the next, say, few hundred years which may not duplicate the frenzy of Partition or the industrialisation of the gas chambers but it will be horrible.

    An exception that is always mentioned is the US, but people forget it was founded on genocide and, very much unlike the UK, has a foundation myth built upon immigration. Britain does not – it is a tribal society, not an ideological one. It is much more Bosnia than Boston.

  12. Rumbold — on 27th November, 2009 at 7:20 am  

    Boyo:

    I don't know if it is progress, but I think a change in conditions changes (generally) a person's mentality (there are of course always exceptions). Take, for example, 16th century France and today. Why is there a lot less religious tension now then there was then? People are more prosperous, and that always helps, but there are other factors as well. A greater understanding of science plays a role, as good/bad/extraordinary things (such as a comet) are no longer attributed to a sign from God. This is turn has weakened the communal aspect of religion, since God's punishment for heresy is no longer so visible.

  13. Don — on 27th November, 2009 at 7:56 am  

    Boyo,

    You may be right, but Steve Pinker makes an intertesting case to the contrary.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_m

  14. wyrdtimes — on 27th November, 2009 at 9:08 am  

    Abolish the Church of England and the monarchy – problem solved.

  15. Leon — on 27th November, 2009 at 9:30 am  

    Neither me.

  16. leon — on 27th November, 2009 at 9:31 am  

    Sounds like a plan! Thankfully the Catholic Church seems to be on the way to doing that with recent Papal announcements. :D

  17. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2009 at 4:18 am  

    Whilst I have no time for royalty whatsoever, was it not Prince Charles that wanted to be redesignated as the 'keeper of the faiths', the plural being deliberate?

    Obviously, I'd prefer it if he just gave the whole faith thingy up, but you can't have it all.

  18. Binky — on 28th November, 2009 at 4:51 am  

    Douglas -

    The Bigears of Highgrove was in Arabia not so long ago, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall in person.

    It was a great pity that they were not taken along to watch an adultress being stoned to death, a sight which the Duchess would certainly have found of interest.

    Actually, such stonings are quite rare but I'm sure one could have been scheduled specially if the British Embassy in Riyadh had requested it as a matter of urgency.

  19. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2009 at 5:11 am  

    Binky,

    That was quite funny.

  20. Chris Baldwin — on 28th November, 2009 at 5:14 am  

    As a republican my stance on the monarchy is abolition or nothing. I won't support any reforms to the institution.

  21. dave bones — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:06 am  

    Me too Chris, although I am sure no one will notice what I do and dont I support

  22. boyo — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:19 am  

    We've noticed dave!

    And don't worry, when true monarchy is re-imposed upon these isles, we'll come knocking… ;-)

  23. Rumbold — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:29 am  

    Douglas:

    Prince Charles wanted to change the monarch's title from 'defender of the faith' (ironically a papal gift to Henry VIII) to 'defender of faith'. Then eminent latinists pointed out to him that the Latin was such that it could be translated either way, so we haven't heard anymore about it.

  24. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:41 am  

    Rumbold,

    Interesting. There is such a thing in Britain as an emminent Latinist. Who'd have thunk it? They rarely appear, read never appear, on the telly. Maybe it's because we'd need subtitles or summat.

    Did you get my e-mail?

  25. Rumbold — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:53 am  

    I had it explained to me over a few glasses of port and wine by a medieval English professor.

  26. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2009 at 7:07 am  

    Though I recall some MP that seemed to know more about the relationship of us subjects to her Highness than was exactly healthy. (Can't recall his name, although there was a Saint in it somewhere)

    Delete that. His name was Norman St John-Stevas, Baron St John of Fawsley, MP.

    It is an interesting proposition that you seem to be expounding. Should there be a place in our society for that sort of privilege, or not? In fact, are we allowed to act, as citizens, or will we always be bamboozled by the likes of Norman St John-Stevas?

    The fact that there is a living to be made out of this sort of nonsense annoys me, and apparently many other people that have commented on this thread.

    I think you are my chum, hereabouts. Lets just say I haven't a scooby what or where you are coming from on this topic.

  27. Rumbold — on 28th November, 2009 at 7:22 am  

    Douglas:

    I don't see how the monarchy restricts our rights. We should stop paying most of the hangers-on, and divert the money instead to the upkeep of the buildings (which would then be open to the public more often). Or are you just a Jacobite who wants James II's lineage to return? Heh.

  28. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2009 at 7:41 am  

    Rumbold,

    Peace or summat.

    I am asking you to reply to my e-mail. I am interested in your views on a book that seems to me to be well researched, and which I don't really want to comment on until I have your opinion on it. I'd like your, pretty obviously neutral views, before I said anything whatsoever.

    You know me well enough to understand that I am OK on confidentiality. I am not about, nor ever have been, about to bust that.

    This is becoming ridiculously hard.

    I will e-mail you my address, if that equalises it for you.

    How, exactly, are people supposed to engage with each other?

  29. Rumbold — on 28th November, 2009 at 11:40 am  

    I see you as a chum too Douglas. And I hope you received my message (sent at 3:17pm today).

  30. SarahAB — on 29th November, 2009 at 12:34 am  

    I was amazed by the anti-Catholic bigotry following a Times article about this a few days ago – it seems astonishing to pick on Catholics and no other religion – if the monarch had to be C of E that would be slightly different – discriminatory in a more even handed way!

  31. douglas clark — on 29th November, 2009 at 1:46 am  

    SarahAB, If I understand it properly, the monarch has to be Church of England. 'Cause he or she is the head of that mob. Clearly, it is a hand me down from the times of Henry VIII.

  32. MiriamBinder — on 29th November, 2009 at 1:58 am  

    Forgetting for the moment that this whole thing is just a diversionary tactic along the lines of 'keep your eyes on the ball while the accomplice picks your pocket'

    The Monarchy is an archaic tradition
    A ruling Monarch is an institution and therefore not a person
    Legally, we denizens of the UK are not citizens but subjects

    On that note, the Monarchy is costing the average subject far too much and personally I would like it all put in a Museum along with all other exhibits. Vive la republique!!!!!

  33. douglas clark — on 29th November, 2009 at 2:32 am  

    MiriamBinder,

    Agreed completely. Now we've sorted that out, what's next?

  34. SarahAB — on 29th November, 2009 at 4:33 am  

    Douglas – sorry about that inaccuracy – but I'm pretty sure it's the case that Prince William could marry a Jewish or Muslim woman without any problems (or without any constitutional problems anyway) but could not marry a Catholic unless he gave up his right to the throne.

  35. dave bones — on 29th November, 2009 at 5:18 pm  

    Talking royalist conspiracy theories which we weren't did you hear the one about William being born on an equinox in a thunder storm and Charles wanting to call him Arthur?

  36. dave bones — on 29th November, 2009 at 5:19 pm  

    or was it harry?

  37. MiriamBinder — on 29th November, 2009 at 11:12 pm  

    Thank the powers that be that never happened. Archie the Welsh don't roll of the tongue as easily as Willie of Wales ;)

  38. Andrew — on 3rd December, 2009 at 3:23 am  

    No country has abolished it's monarchy without a civil war.

    The exception sometimes quoted is Hawaii, but that was actually an American coup.

    The problem is not doing away with the monarchy but deciding who gets their powers.

    Equally the Established church – loads of people have looked at disestablishment and then decided it can't be done without a huge upheaval.

    Interestingly the Roman Catholics are not calling for disestablishment.

  39. ssjohal — on 10th December, 2009 at 9:56 am  

    Punjab belongs to all those who have made it their home, the Sikhs, Hindu's, Christian and those Iike myself who have no religion, no one group has the right to dominate the other. If we truelly love the land and its people.then do something to the stop the famers committing suicides, female foeticide, the drug culture, unemployment If the water crises of Punjab is not solved, according to recent reports, there would be famine in Punjab in 50 years. These are the real demands of the people. The ruling classes, to divert the people from these , bring in the forces of communalism and Bhindrawale was one of them.

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