A Catholic monarchy?

  • October 16, 2008
{mosimage}One of the last vestiges of official anti-Catholicism in the world is the British Crown. Yet most Canadians are probably unaware that the Queen of England (or King) — Canada’s head of state — is prohibited by law from being Roman Catholic or marrying a Roman Catholic.
This anachronism is found in the Act of Settlement of 1701, a bit of legislation that flowed out of battles between Catholics and Protestants over who would reign in the United Kingdom. As history would have it, the Protestants won that battle and henceforth from that time, all heirs to the throne could not be Roman Catholic.

Though it seems preposterous today in an age of religious pluralism, the act still remains in force. Canadians were reminded of this in May when Montreal resident Autumn Kelly converted from Catholicism to marry Peter Phillips, the Queen’s grandson and 11th in line to the throne.

Over the years various individuals and groups have sought to persuade Britain’s ruling classes to amend the act to remove this last bar against Catholics. After all, it is passing strange that a future monarch of Great Britain could be a Muslim or Sikh, but not a Catholic. This is made more than odd in that this same person is also titular head of the Church of England, the country’s established church.

It sounds bizarre to modern ears to hear that highly sophisticated, secular, democratic countries could still have such laws on the books. And over the years, various individuals and groups have sought to persuade Britain’s ruling classes to amend the act. Alas, complications kept getting in the way and no one got particularly riled since it only affected Catholics, after all, and there were more pressing matters at hand.

Now, for the first time however, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is promising to review the act with an eye to scrapping the anti-Catholic clauses. The government promises to introduce reforms if it is re-elected for a fourth term within 18 months.

This may be a faint hope, considering the current sorry electoral chances for the hoary Labour government, but it is a hope nonetheless. Catholics have a reason to cheer.

Canadians also have a role to play in resolving this injustice. Since many of the former colonial governments of Britain continue to have the Queen as their head of state, they will have a say in any changes. While of late Canadian governments haven’t been noted for their friendliness toward the Catholic cause, they do profess to be open-minded and opposed to religious intolerance. So there seems little reason a Canadian government, of whatever political stripe, would oppose this change.

So, in the midst of all the economic chaos and the electoral cacophony of this crazy autumn, there is a tiny glimmer of light in the world. Perhaps one day we will sing “God save the (Catholic) Queen.”

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