Posted by: the watchmen | April 1, 2009

Papist Monarch with Dis_United Kingdom?. Eric Waugh.

Could Gordon’s plans for royals lead to a dis-United Kingdom?

By Eric Waugh

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Various theories are abroad as to why, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 80 years, the Prime Minister has chosen to launch himself on the reef-strewn shoals of religion, Catholics and the Crown.

Spin doctors in Number 10 speak urbanely of the Prime Minister having discovered that the ban on the monarch marrying a Roman Catholic is an historic anomaly.

For reasons undisclosed, it must be tackled now. Cynics — most of his audience — smell a desperate attempt to raise rival headlines to those which blame Number 10 for the dismal financial crash which is hitting the pocket of pretty well every voter.

They detect one more sign of an approaching general election. The leader of the Scottish Nationalists, Alex Salmond, is on record as having called for the ban to be removed.

The Prime Minister cannot afford to ignore this patent bid for the Catholic vote. Were it not for the stranglehold Labour has established on Scottish industrial constituencies, the party might never see office in Westminster again.

Of the 59 Scottish MPs, 40 are Labour — and of those 40, 13 — more than one third — are Roman Catholic.

They have been grumbling to Number 10 that in the new Britain, over the creation of which Blair presided, more than a thousand youngsters under 14 every year are having abortions and that small-time landladies in their constituencies are unhappy at being arraigned for refusing to rent double beds to male couples.

In a bid to row back, Brown, son of the Presbyterian manse, has invited the Pope to visit the UK, a visit which is scheduled to happen before the election. (Why else would the Prime Minister be issuing it?)

And how suitable if the ice encasing the proud Anglican island were to be broken beforehand by a proposal that the old slight of the monarch being forbidden to marry a papist be swept away? How suitable indeed!

The only snag is that we have been here so often before — and nothing has happened.

In the recent past, numerous Catholics have risen to positions of great political influence at Westminster; but something has stayed their hand when it came to the question of pushing for the scrapping of the 300-year-old Act of Settlement which contains the ban.

In fact, they have been willing to wound, but afraid to strike.

I first met the constitutional lawyer Norman St John-Stevas when, as the undergraduate president of the Cambridge Union, he came to Dublin to debate at Trinity College. I later interviewed him when he was in Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet.

I recall that, when he took over his office in the Commons as Leader of the House, one of his first acts was to hang a very large portrait of James II on the wall. James, you will know, was the Catholic King of the Stuarts of Scotland who was defeated at the Boyne — an episode in his flight from England which led directly to the legislation of 1689 ordaining that the Crown must be Protestant.

St John-Stevas is now Lord St John of Fawsley, but his mother was Kitty O’Connor and he is a deeply learned Catholic. It is significant anent the current debate that he is on record as pausing at the brink.

He admits that repealing the ban would be likely to lead eventually to a Catholic monarch and, even in this age of widespread religious indifference, that could transform an institution uniting the nation into one which did the opposite.

Lord St John, in fact, buys the ‘can of worms’ argument: that, once the lid was off, it could never be put back on. A Catholic consort, particularly if a woman, could lead to her children being brought up as Catholics, leading eventually to a Catholic king or queen — who would be supreme head of the Church of England.

Avoiding this anomaly would at once raise the question of disestablishment — and that would involve major reform of the House of Lords, the great state occasions, the older universities and schools — and so on.

There remains the factor of the historic role of the Pope in presiding over the Vatican, an independent state, with its own diplomatic corps, from time to time intervening actively in the international political scene — as it did so controversially in its dealings with the Nazis during the Second World War, as it does now with the UN.

Would the national loyalties of a Catholic monarch of the UK be compromised? Materially, would it matter? Possibly not.

British kings and queens no longer topple governments. Yet in an intangible quantity like monarchy, perception is everything.

Popular doubt about divided loyalty could end it.

The personality of the monarch, of course, is crucial. The slightly bumbling Charles might be just what the future requires.

Remember that his 17th-century predecessor, Charles II, jokingly advised his sister, Henrietta, to sleep through boring sermons, as the rest of the family did; leading one preacher to call out to the Earl of Lauderdale: “My Lord, you snore so loud you will wake the King!”

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