Autumn Kelly's cavalier conversion

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

The usual manner of leaving the Catholic Church is to drift away, without making any public pronouncement of it.

The lady in question is one Autumn Kelly of Montreal who will marry, the day after the tomorrow, the Queen's eldest grandchild, Mr. Peter Phillips. When Mr. Phillips was born 30 years ago, his mother, Princess Anne, and her then-husband, Captain Mark Phillips, declined a royal title for their children, so Mr. Phillips is very much a commoner. Indeed, so common as to have sold exclusive pre-nuptial photographs and an interview to magazine for some $1-million. At the same time, he is not so common as to want to sacrifice his place in the line of succession for the woman he loves. So Miss Kelly has abandoned her Roman Catholicism and become a member of the Church of England.

It's not clear what Mr. Phillips is preserving. Barring a Nepal-style massacre of the entire royal family, he has no plausible chance of ever becoming king, standing now 11th in the queue. So for his bride to trade her religion for a non-existent prospect of royal preferment seems, well, shallow.

In my eyes, it is, after all, the same religion, Miss Kelly explained to Hello!. One does not expect either great theological or historical literacy from Hello!, but even then the statement reveals not mere shallowness, but deep ignorance. Miss Kelly was baptized at St. John Fisher parish in Montreal, named after the Catholic bishop beheaded by King Henry VIII. Neither king nor bishop thought the differences Henry was effecting in the Church were inconsequential.


If she had decided to convert because she had become convinced of the truths that the Anglican Church teaches, that could be an admirable act. But to change one's beliefs in order to preserve one's standing in a family which appears increasingly indifferent to religion altogether seems an act more fitting to knaves than nobles.


The decision is odder still given recent contrary precedents. Prince Michael of Kent (the Queen's first cousin) gave up his place to marry a Catholic, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, converted to Catholicism himself in 2001. In 2006, he got married at the Vatican, the first royal to do so since the Reformation.

The most senior Catholic royal is the Duchess of Kent, who converted in 1994. The 1701 Act of Settlement, which bars Catholics and those who marry Catholics from the line of succession says nothing about marrying non-Catholics who subsequently convert, so her husband, the Duke of Kent, kept his place. I remember being at Westminster cathedral in 1996 for Easter services when, just a few minutes ahead of time, the Duchess of Kent arrived for Mass. There was a palpable sense of the historical moment.

While it cannot be denied that the British and Canadian Crown is, constitutionally speaking, a thoroughgoing anti-Catholic institution, it has long since ceased to be so practically speaking. I support the monarchical principle, and am not terribly troubled by the exclusion of Catholics. Indeed, given that it is possible to marry a witch, but not a Catholic, and remain eligible for the Crown, the exclusion sets us apart somehow, as if to acknowledge that Catholicism is something to be taken seriously. And it must be added that given the total hash the Queen's children have made of their marriages, one is almost grateful that they are not Catholics — the Monaco royals have created enough trouble on that score for the Vatican.

The cavalier conversion of Miss Kelly does symbolize that the Queen's children and grandchildren are more religiously indifferent than defenders of the faith. It was some years ago that the Prince of Wales mused that he would like to be a defender of faith in general, rather than of the faith in the Anglican sense. More recently there have been indications that upon becoming king he would prefer a multi-faith coronation service. And it must be said that Prince Charles himself seems to take religion more seriously than most of the others.

All of which make Miss Kelly's decision even more disappointing. If she had decided to convert because she had become convinced of the truths that the Anglican Church teaches, that could be an admirable act. But to change one's beliefs in order to preserve one's standing in a family which appears increasingly indifferent to religion altogether seems an act more fitting to knaves than nobles.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, Autumn Kelly's cavalier conversion. National Post, (Canada) May 15, 2008.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 National Post




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