Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Modern Day Admirers of Henry II

I appreciate Rick’s post (here) concerning British MP Frank Field’s efforts to require the General Synod of the Church of England to approve the consecration of women bishops by ending the C of E’s exemption from the county’s gender equality laws.

Sadly this sort of interference in ecclesial and episcopal affairs is not an isolated incident.

Of course China tops the list when it comes to arranging for the consecration of bishops not approved by the Holy See and interfering with the ministry of those bishops in communion with Rome of whom the Chinese authorities do not approve. (See here, here and here).

While China may be the most conspicuous offender in this regard it is by no means the only one. 

The State of Israel attempted to interfere with the appointment of two Melkite Greek Catholic bishops, Msgr. Botrus Muallem and Msgr. George Haddad.  (See here, here and here).

The Turkish government reserves the right to approve the election of Orthodoxy’s Ecumenical Patriarch.  This is bad enough, but it insists that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen and the Turkish state closed the only seminary in Constantinople (a/k/a Istanbul) a number of years ago.  This is wrong in itself but it also has the effect of severely curtailing the pool of possible candidates.  (See here and here).

The Israeli government likewise reserves the right to approve the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, a prerogative that Jordan and the Palestinian Authority also claim to exercise.  (See here and here).

Like almost everything in the Middle East, the role of the Patriarchate in the Orthodox Christian community in the Holy Land is complex (e.g. The 65,000 member Orthodox community is ethnically almost entirely Arab with only a few hundred Greeks, yet the latter hold all of the key positions of power.  The Patriarchate holds large tracks of land in Jerusalem, and is inclined to engage in land transactions with Israelis that may be lucrative for the Patriarchate but which Palestinian Christians may find problematic).  (See here).

Of course state interference with the clerics of a particular religious group can take forms that are more subtle than claiming a veto over the appointment of a bishop or patriarch.  (See here).

This is to say nothing of the severe restrictions on Christian practice and even atrocities committed against Christians in Muslim countries throughout the Middle East. 

Needless to say, religious freedom, “the source and synthesis” of all basic human rights (Centesimus Annus ¶ 47), is under great strain throughout the world.


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We an Americans are understandably shocked at the thought that the British goverment could dictate policies to the Anglican Church, as indeed we should be. We are however forgetting some significant history. The whole point of having a Church of England was so that the government could control the loose canons in the hierarchy and make them support the desires of the king. The great fear of kings in those days was that when they launched wars of aggression against each other or against remoter European kingdoms, Rome would step up to the plate, condemning their unjust wars and excommunicating the leaders responsible for them. What the kings wanted was a nice, lapdog hierarchy in place, that would bless every aggression and never raise a question. Voila! Welcome to the Church of Compliant Prelates.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 1, 2011 8:13:15 AM

No mention of the interference and persecution of Christians in Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world?

Posted by: Fr. J | Feb 1, 2011 4:42:17 PM

Father J:

With respect, I ended the post by making note of precisely the sort of persecution you have in mind, thus my statement "This is to say nothing of the severe restrictions on Christian practice and even atrocities committed against Christians in Muslim countries throughout the Middle East."

The focus of the post was on state interference with episcopal appointments. There are many other forms of conduct that violate the right of religious freedom. Some of these forms of conduct involve state action, while other violations of religious liberty follow from the actions of private citizens (though perhaps with the help of a complicit government). Sadly some of the most henious violations of the right to religious freedom have occurred in the Muslim countries of the Middle East. Still, surely the wrongful conduct that takes place in Muslim countries does not excuse the different though still wrongful conduct that takes place in non-Muslim countries.

Pax Christi,


Posted by: John M. Breen | Feb 1, 2011 5:00:50 PM