By David Kerr
The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is giving a mixed reaction to plans to reform the centuries old law that prevents the British monarch from being Catholic or marrying a Catholic.
“The Act of Settlement amounts to iniquitous anti-Catholic discrimination,” said Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops of Scotland.
The U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron, revealed this week that he has written to the 15 other Commonwealth states where Queen Elizabeth is head of state with a view to reforming the Act of Settlement, which has been in force since 1701.
“This rule is a historical anomaly – it does not, for example, bar those who marry spouses of other faiths – and we do not think it can continue to be justified,” wrote Cameron.
However, the proposal does not include lifting the ban on Catholics ascending to the throne. The reason offered for this is that, upon coronation, the British monarch automatically becomes the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
“While a partial repeal is welcome, the continuing ban on a Catholic becoming head of state remains state-sponsored sectarianism,” Kearney told CNA Oct. 14.
Prime Minister Cameron is due to discuss his proposal with fellow Commonwealth leaders when they meet at a summit in Perth, Australia, later this month. Already the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has said he will support the reform.
The Act of Settlement was originally passed to prevent the descendants of the Catholic King James II from ascending the throne. He was deposed in the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” by supporters of the Protestant William and Mary. Mary was the eldest Protestant daughter of James II and was married to William of Orange, who later became William III.
In recent years, the Act has affected several members of the British royal family.
In 2001, Lord Nicholas Windsor, the youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, permanently forfeited his right to the royal succession by converting to Catholicism.
In 2008, Autumn Kelly, the Canadian fiancée of the Queen’s grandson Peter Philips, renounced her Catholicism in favor of Anglicanism, thus preserving her husband’s slim chances of becoming king. He is currently 11th in line to the throne.
The U.K. Prime Minister’s other proposals for reforming the monarchy include ending the current preference given to male heirs over their older sisters.
“We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public office we continue to enshrine male superiority,” wrote Cameron.