God save the (non-Catholic) QueenFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
Regardless of the laws of Westminster, the laws of conscience would preclude a Catholic from serving as head of the Church of England.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper saw the Queen this week in London. I don’t know what they discussed, but soon enough the government of Canada is going to be consulted about changing the rules about who gets to be Queen. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated his desire to amend the 1701 Act of Settlement to eliminate the prohibition on Catholics becoming sovereign, or heirs to the throne marrying Catholics.
Given that Her Majesty now gloriously reigning is Queen of Canada, our government will be consulted on the change. I hope they say no. A decent respect for history requires it, a decent respect for the conscience of a Catholic sovereign demands it and a decent respect for the Church of England suggests it.
The alleged rationale for this proposal is allowing “discrimination to be removed,” according to Mr. Brown. It’s a bit silly to discuss removing discrimination from a hereditary monarchy; it is rather at the heart of the matter. The whole point of the monarchical principle in constitutional government is that the personality of the state is inherited rather than earned. The office chooses the incumbent, not the other way around.
There is great merit in that principle, even if the lot falls, as it does occasionally, not on a woman of distinction such as the late Queen Mother, but as it will eventually, on the hapless Prince of Wales. But even then the principle is vindicated. Singing God Save the King for Charles will be, most certainly, an affirmation of the office rather than the incumbent. Affirming offices despite their holders is an important part of institutional continuity and social stability.
It is true, especially for Catholic monarchists, that the thoroughly anti-Catholic nature of the British and Canadian monarchy is awkward. I wish that it were not so, but it is so, even if in recent decades that antiCatholicism has been almost completely attenuated. The British monarchy is tied -- presumably inextricably -- to the Church of England. The Church of England was established by an act of parliament, which is, admittedly, an unusual way for a Church to be established. It is anomalous, but it is history.
A key point of the exercise was to put the Church of England under the authority of the sovereign as opposed to that of the pope. From a Catholic point of view, a decent respect for history requires that an act of parliament which usurped the legitimate governance of the Church must be dealt with before deciding who might occupy the throne of usurpation. The establishment of the Church of England must be addressed before taking on the question of Catholics on the throne. But as the former question is not on the table, neither should the latter be.
Over centuries and the blood of many martyrs, Catholics came to live in peace and religious freedom under the British crown. Indeed, in one of those ironies in history, religious liberty has flourished in the former British colonies better than in most other parts of the world. (Recall that a key complaint of the American revolutionaries was that King George III was tolerating popery in his Quebec colony.) So changing the rules of succession is not necessary for Catholic emancipation.
Allowing a Catholic to sit upon the throne would put him in a terrible conflict of conscience. As a Catholic he would be in full communion with the Holy Father in Rome; as sovereign his coronation oath would oblige him to keep many Anglicans out of full communion with the same Catholic Church. Regardless of the laws of Westminster, the laws of conscience would preclude a Catholic from serving as head of the Church of England. Again, disestablishment must come first. But as I oppose disestablishment as an unwelcome step toward secularism, the Catholic question should not arise at all.
Finally, it is well known that the Church of England is in a difficult moment. More Catholics go to church in Britain than Anglicans do, despite being outnumbered nominally 10 to one. The fissiparous Anglican communion -- geographically largely coterminous with the Commonwealth -- is under great strain. Changing the rules of succession for its supreme governor in favour of Catholics, and thereby raising questions of establishment, strikes me as a rather unseemly taking advantage of our fellow Christians’ current troubles.
I can sing God Save the Queen in good conscience today. Let Her Majesty’s successors reign in good conscience as head of a Church separated -- sadly, but deliberately and essentially -- from Rome.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "God Save the (non-Catholic) Queen." National Post, (Canada) April 2, 2009.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
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.
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