The end of Protestant Succession?

The Illustrious House of Hannover,
And Protestant succession,
To these I lustily will swear,
Whilst they can keep possession:
For in my Faith, and Loyalty,
I never once will faulter,
But George, my lawful king shall be,
Except the Times shou’d alter.

Well, perhaps the times they are a’altering. Or perhaps not.

News is just in that the CHOGM meeting yesterday decided to support changes to the rules of succession of the English (and therefore the Australian) Monarchy. The changes are:

1. Male offspring of the royal couple no longer to have precedence over older femail offspring in the order of succession to the throne; and

2. The ban on spouses of Catholics ascending to the throne is to be abolished.

Neither decision is yet, in fact, law. That change requires an act of the British Parliament; but I think it is a fair bet that both changes will be made now that the Commonwealth Heads of Government all support the change.

However, perhaps the Vicar of Bray doesn’t yet have to “turn the Cat in Pan again”, because this doesn’t mean the end to the Protestant succession. As the Archbishop of Canterbury was saying in his interview on Vatican Radio yesterday,

“My immediate reaction is that the possibility for the monarch to marry a Catholic is not something I lose any sleep over, but the constitutional question, of course the tough one, is the upbringing of any heir to the throne in an Anglican environment, given that the heir to the throne will be the supreme governor, under law, of the Church of England. So I very much welcome the statement made by Archbishop Vincent (Nichols) in response today to this announcement in which he has recognised exactly that problem and made some supportive comments about the establishment of the Church of England. I think if we’re quite clear that, so long as the monarch is supreme governor of Church of England, there needs to be a clear understanding that the heir is brought up in that environment, all well and good, and I think Archbishop Vincent has affirmed some important things about the common ground we already share as Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

“I don’t sense there’s a great head of steam about that as an issue in itself. I think the question of royal marriage is one which understandably has aroused a certain amount of popular feeling because it looks like a simple question of human rights and it also looks like a bit of an anachronistic discrimination against Roman Catholics dating back to the time when people saw them as the Taliban of their day. So I can see the popular feeling behind that – I don’t sense much popular feeling or even political feeling around disestablishment as an agenda.

I do see a problem here, one that Archbishop Nichols might like to consider. When Catholics marry Protestants, they have to agree to do all in their power to raise their offspring as Catholics, and the prospective Protestant spouse has to be made aware of (although not actually promise to support) this obligation on the part of the spouse. This is the usual requirement for a dispensation, without which the marriage could not be recognised by the Church. That is something that would need to be worked through.

The actual canons are as follows:

Canon 1124 Without the express permission of the competent authority, marriage is prohibited between two baptised persons, one of whom was baptised in the catholic Church or received into it after baptism and has not defected from it by a formal act, the other of whom belongs to a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the catholic Church.

Canon 1125 The local Ordinary can grant this permission if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions are fulfilled:

1° the catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptised and brought up in the catholic Church;

the other party is to be informed in good time of these promises to be made by the catholic party, so that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and of the obligation of the catholic party

3° both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either contractant.


About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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10 Responses to The end of Protestant Succession?

  1. Alexander says:

    A Catholic probably shares more theologically with the C. of E. during Queen Victoria’s reign than many Anglicans do today, with some bishops Canterbury is in communion with even denying Jesus’ divinity. So I don’t see what difference it makes.

    (And doesn’t the change in succession need to be approved by the parliaments of all her domains—and in the case of the federations, won’t that mean the state/provincial parliaments will need to approve, too? Since 1986 Westminster hasn’t been able to legislate for Australia, so if our Commonwealth Parliament (in conjunction with state parliaments) hasn’t got the authority due to the particular wording of the constitution, I don’t see how this can be changed without a referendum.)

    • Schütz says:

      I don’t know if the rules of succession are a part of each of the individual nations constitution – I don’t think it is a part of ours. As far as I know, the Act of Succession is a piece of British law, and it needs only be changed there.

    • Alexander says:

      Well, that summary sounds like what I thought would have to happen. But I’ve read Anne Twomey’s book, and my reasoning was influenced by it. Although the Act of Succession is British law, it applies in Australia separately from its application in the UK: Think of it like this. The City of Melbourne was established by an order of the New South Wales governor in 1842. But if though that was a New South Wales order, nothing NSW does can change it anymore; and it can only be dissolved or changed by the Victorian government.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks for this link, Tony. It was most informative. The business about Australia having as many “crowns” as States is pertinent. Also the fact that simply ending one part of the religious discrimination in respect to the Crown only highlights the main one. Interestingly, what if the heir to the throne decided to convert to another religion all together? Would they still be barred from succession

  2. John Nolan says:

    Those with long memories will remember Prince Michael of Kent renouncing his place in the line of succession when he married the Catholic Baroness von Reibnitz in 1978. She managed to get her previous marriage annulled and a lavish Catholic ceremony was to take place in Vienna. When the couple let slip that any children would be brought up as Anglicans, Pope Paul VI, in one of his last acts as Pontiff, vetoed the ceremony at the last minute and they had to make do with a civil wedding. In 1983 Pope John Paul II finally allowed them a Catholic wedding, which was celebrated privately.

    The ancient law of male primogeniture does not only apply to the royal family, and by tinkering with it for the sake of political correctness Cameron, who has no respect for history or tradition (a true ‘heir to Blair’), is opening a can of worms.

    • Alexander says:

      Can you tell us what worms are in this can? I haven’t heard a single objection.

      What difference does it make if the this doesn’t affect male primogeniture in other contexts? Noble titles may already pass strictly to males (thus never to a daughter) or may be passed jointly in shares to daughters and go into abeyance. So royal titles are already different from noble titles.

      • John Nolan says:

        Because once you start applying modern notions of equality (themselves dubious, not least from a Catholic standpoint) to institutions rooted in tradition and history it is difficult to know where to draw the line. For example, the consort of a king is known as the Queen, and addressed as Your Majesty. Surely it is discriminatory that the consort of a queen regnant should be a mere prince? In point of fact, William of Orange insisted on being King, and the consort of Mary I, Philip of Spain, took the style, though not the function, of King of England. Victoria at first wanted parliament to give Albert the title of king, but Lord Melbourne dissuaded her. The Duke of Edinburgh was never granted the title of Prince Consort.

  3. Peregrinus says:

    Very interesting development. Couple of points:

    1. In the past, the British Government’s position is that it did not wish to amend the law of succession either to introduce gender equality or to eliminate (or modify) religious discrimination because legislative or other action would be required in each of the Commonwealth realms (independent Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is head of state) to ensure that the modified succession rules would apply in all of them. This would be difficult to co-ordinate and burdensome on each Commonwealth realm – they have their own legislative priorities.

    2. The unspoken subtext was that some of the realms might find this all a bit bothersome, and might just use the occasion to switch to republican status. This isn’t a groundless fear; a majority of the Commonwealth realms have already become republics.

    3. Officially, the British government does not care whether other commonwealth countries are realms or republics; this is a matter for them. But in practice the British government is keen to keep the realms as realms; it helps to cement bilateral relationships between the various realms and the UK.

    4. So what’s changed? It could be that the negative perceptions of the monarchy which stem from sex discrimination and anti-Catholic discrimination are increasing, and that the political cost of not doing something about this is now perceived to be greater than the political cost of doing something about it. (Though, myself, I don’t see any evidence that this is the case.) Alternatively, it could just be that the current British Prime Minister has stronger feelings on the subject than his predecessors did.

    5. If the latter is the case, it’s ironic that a foreign Prime Minister is in the driving seat when it comes to making changes in Australian succession law.

    6. David raises an interesting question about the raising of children in a hypothetical Anglican-Catholic royal marriage. Although the exclusion from succession of anyone who marries a Catholic is to be dropped, a number of other religiously-discriminatory rules will (so far as we know at this stage) remain in the Act of Settlement:

    – Anyone who is not a Protestant is excluded from the succession (section 1 of the Act).

    – Anyone who “shall be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with, the See or Church of Rome, or shall profess the popish religion” is excluded from succession (section 2 of the Act).

    – Everyone who comes to the throne shall take the coronation oath as laid down in the Coronation Oath Act 1689 (section 2 again). That oath includes a promise to “maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the gospel and the Protestant reformed religion as established by law”.

    – Everyone who comes to the throne “shall join in communion with the Church of England as by law established” (section 3).

    7. The net effect of all this is that, if a royal child is a Catholic, he or she will be excluded from the succession.

    8. To answer David’s question, a person could be another denomination – say, Lutheran – and still succeed, and in fact this was the case with George I. Basically, the heir has to be a Protestant, and needs to adhere to a form of Protestantism which allows Eucharistic sharing with the Church of England, and which does not see maintaining Anglicanism as the state church of England as unconscionable.

    9. All this clearly poses a dilemma for the Anglican in an Anglican-Catholic royal marriage. Part of the ethos by which the royal family sustains itself is the notion that it has a duty to serve, and this includes a duty to be the monarch, should that office fall to one, and a duty to produce an heir capable of succeeding, and to raise that heir with the like sense of duty. Obviously, allowing your children to be raised as Catholics is fundamentally inconsistent with this ethos.

    10. Canon law is what it is, but it’s not immutable, and in the past dispensations have been granted to accommodate the position of Catholics holding high office in a state with a non-Catholic establishment. The local bishop can’t dispense with the requirements of Canon 1125, but a higher “competent authority” certainly can. Whether he would or not, and what other requirements he would impose, is a question that will not be answered until the issue actually arises. An interesting question is whether the competent authority – oh, all right, the Pope – would be influenced by his judgment about the desirability of accommodating, even supporting, the establishment of the Church of England.

  4. Peregrinus says:

    “I do see a problem here, one that Archbishop Nichols might like to consider. When Catholics marry Protestants, they have to agree to do all in their power to raise their offspring as Catholics . . .”

    For the record, it seems that Nichols has considered it. I find this on the website of the Catholic News Agency:

    The question being asked by some today is what religion the children of an Anglican-Catholic royal wedding would be raised in? The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 1125) only permits a mixed marriage where the Catholic party makes “a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.”

    Archbishop Nichols said such a scenario “would be a very difficult situation indeed,” but stressed that he did not “think we should try to pre-judge” it because “it’s not even a practical possibility at the moment, it’s a theoretical possibility.”

    He told BBC News that the Catholic Church’s practice of “sitting down with Catholics who are marrying outside of the Catholic community and trying to see how the marriage will develop,” was “actually quite subtle” and “quite advanced.”

    He explained that if and when the hypothetical case ever arose, the Church would talk to the Catholic party “about the duty and expectation of the Catholic to give their best endeavours within the unity and harmony of the marriage to bring up their children Catholic.”

    But Archbishop Nichols added that having that discussion “does not guarantee that the children every mixed marriage are brought up Catholic.”

    He explained that no guarantees can be given because the non-Catholic party “is not required to give any explicit undertaking about what they will do,” while the Catholic party is only expected to do “their best.”

    This report is obviously excerpting and paraphrasing what Nichols said. I’ve searched the BBC website, but I haven’t found a fuller report of his comments on this topic.

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