April 29, 2011
The Catholic Who Would Be King
Mike has a really nice post below criticizing the refusal of the Church of England to overturn the 1701 law which prohibits an heir from marrying a Catholic. I appreciate the sentiment very much -- it seems, somehow, wrong that Catholics are discriminated against in this way. It seems unfair, unequal. I don't share the view that there is something inherently wrong with established churches writ large (though of course I think there is something wrong with them in this country), but I think Mike rightly laments the regrettable anti-Catholic "vestiges" of the Anglican Church.
But whatever one may say about the 1701 law's beginnings, maybe today the law is just fine. Given the cultural history of the Anglican Church, I think it would be quite wrong for a Catholic to want to be head of the Church of England, or married to the head. To assume that position would be to ignore the history of the Anglican Church, and all that it meant for Catholicism in England, just for the sake of gaining a kind of formally equal footing with everyone else. As a Catholic, I'm delighted to be unequal, discriminated against, on this ground. I have no business there. It isn't only that this isn't the sort of discrimination that ought to be concerning. More than that, this sort of discrimination and inequality -- today -- may well be a positive good. It is a reminder and reinforcement of cultural, historical, and religious difference and separateness.
Equalization here would disturb that difference in a way that, to put the matter perhaps slightly bluntly, is a betrayal of the past. If this law prevents the Catholic who would be king from even considering it, might we not say, 'so much the better'?
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Much better for Catholics in Britain to focus on wielding political power where it really counts--in Parliament.* Besides, given the huge problems (e.g, schism or possible implosion)the Archbishop of Canterbury faces within his own ranks, there may be no (or a much diminished) Church of England for the sovereign to be head of. Nevertheless, it is interesting how a church founded in large part to accommodate Henry VIII's desire for a divorce still intersects with Catholicism, even if in an attenuated way. Camilla Parker Bowles, wife of the heir apparent, was originally married to a Catholic, Andrew Parker Bowles. I believe their children were raised as Catholics. Because Camilla was a divorcee, Charles could not marry her in a religious ceremony. Instead, they had a civil marriage (not attended by the Queen) that was later blessed, if I remember correctly, in a private ceremony in the side chapel of a cathedral. Hardly the way for the future head of the Church of England to display his C of E bona fides.
*It's somewhat ironic that one of the parliamentary leaders pushing for repeal or modification of the 1701 law is Deputy PM Nick Clegg. whi self-identifies as an atheist. He is, however, married to a Catholic, and their children are being raised as Catholics.
Posted by: Bill Collier | Apr 29, 2011 1:24:24 PM
But why not make it so that the Head of the Church of England is not the King or Queen of England? Isn't England's history of discrimination against English and Irish Catholics something to be ashamed of? What about the penal laws for example. In my opinion England's checkered past of institutionalised and non-instutionalised anti-Catholicism should be betrayed and confronted. It is also important to remember that anti-Catholicism in Britain is not simply a relic of the past. Ask some of the Catholics living in Northern Ireland about it.
Posted by: AC | Apr 29, 2011 2:01:32 PM
Thanks, AC -- sure, there are many countries that have a history of unjust discrimination against sundry minorities, including ours.
But making it possible for Catholics to be English royalty and therefore head of the Anglican Church is, in my view, not necessarily either an efficacious or healthful way to go about doing the sort of confronting you describe.
The repeal being suggested here, I think, does not affect whether or not England continues to have an established church. It would only make it possible for Catholics to sit at the head of that established church.
Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Apr 29, 2011 2:19:03 PM
Thanks Marc. There are, of course, English Catholics who are part of the British aristocracy; some members of the English aristocracy have converted to Catholicism and some are "secret" Catholics. I agree that a Catholic has no business being the Head of the Church of England; this is why I suggested separating a King or Queen of England from that specific role. But even a residual anti-Catholicism or a vestige of anti-Catholicism sets a bad example for British subjects, especially when it is a rule with which the majority of British subjects are well aquainted. I agree that allowing an English Prince to marry a Catholic may not be the best way to confront British anti-Catholicism (past or present), but for me this rule of Royal marriage represents something I consider to be morally wrong, especially given England's checkered past of discrimination against Catholics.
Posted by: AC | Apr 29, 2011 4:57:17 PM
If we are talking about history going back to the formation of the Church of England and on to 1701, perhaps it is worth reminding those who read this blog that there may be reasons why the Church of England might not be so pleased with the Catholic Church, as well as vice versa. If one's education on the subject were solely based on the comments and posts above, one might be pardoned for thinking that all of the ill-will was on the side of the Anglicans.
Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Apr 30, 2011 12:55:57 PM
Professor Wertheimer, I don't think I understand the nature of the error that would need pardoning. Nothing in my own post or comment, so far as I can see, suggested in the least that "all of the ill-will was on the side of the Anglicans." Just the reverse. The "ill-will" is distinctly, specially Catholic in this case. But I am happy to agree that there is ill-will on the part of the Anglicans as well.
If you are suggesting that there are good reasons, historical and otherwise, to continue to exclude Catholics from the position of head of the Church of England, then as I said in the post, I could not agree more.
Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Apr 30, 2011 1:25:27 PM
Marc: you made some good points about my post, which I now realize was inartfully drafted. I do think it would be hard for someone belonging to any religion that was governed from outside England to be the head of the English church, which of course is a separate entity from the Roman (or any other) church. There could easily be insuperable differences in belief between (in this case) the Anglican and Roman communions. In fact, there are such differences, relating specifically to the primacy of Rome.
I do want to note, though, that I deplore discrimination in any form. I am not sure that the barring of Catholics from the throne is religious discrimination, though; upon thinking about it, it seems more political than religious to me. The Pope is a head of state, as is the King or Queen of England, and they are both heads of religious as well. How can the ruler of the Church of England owe allegiance or obedience to a religious authority outside his or her country?
Surely we can all agree that for the head of the English church to be a Catholic would be somewhat problematic as a political matter, given that the English church does not recognize the Pope's primacy. For example, how should a Catholic King of England, head of the Anglican communion, respond to the recent effort by Rome to persuade Anglican priests to leave the English church and join Rome?
Incidentally, in my view the era of Philip II of Spain produced anti-Catholic feelings in England that could be viewed as more political than religious. Philip II, head of the Catholic European empire, plotted endlessly to conquer England, based in part on his marriage to Mary Tudor, who of course wanted England to return to Rome. I think it is extremely likely that the politics of this situation overwhelmed the religious aspects, with the religious identities of those involved serving as surrogates for the political and national ones. It was an era of intense and developing nationalism; to say that someone was Catholic meant to many that that person was a sympathizer with the goal of Spanish conquest of England. This may well be wrong-headed, but it was understandable.
Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Apr 30, 2011 7:08:32 PM
The Queen is not head of the Church of England.
The Act of Supremacy says that the Queen is "over all persons and in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as temporal, throughout her dominions supreme."
In that sense, she is referred to in the Articles of Religion as Supreme Governor of the Church.
It is thus an assertion of the supremacy of the Queen in Parliament against any claims to ecclesiastical independence - An extreme form of Gallicanism or Josephism, if you will
Posted by: Michael Paterson-Seymour | May 2, 2011 11:49:40 AM
I certainly wish that whole King Henry VIII thing had turned out differently. There are, however, more important things to worry about: the fact that Christianity in general seems to have a radioactive half life in most of Europe being first on the list.
Posted by: Don Altobello | May 2, 2011 2:40:03 PM