Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Should the Church of England be disestablished?

This analysis by Abp Cranmer the blogger is interesting. This is about the recent proposal by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to allow the UK Monarch to marry a Roman Catholic and to allow the firstborn daughter of the Sovereign to ascend the throne even if she had brothers. Under current laws on succession (300 years on the books), the male has the right to succeed even if he has an elder sister. Princess Elizabeth now Queen Elizabeth II of the UK for 59 years assumed the throne since she had no brothers only a sister, the Princess Margaret.

Prime Minister David Cameron essentially got the approval of the governments of the Queen's other 15 realms in the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia. The Queen is Queen of these independent nations. She shares her crown with these nations. For instance, in Papua New Guinea she is not the Queen of England, but the Queen of Papua New Guinea. Under the Statute of Westminister any change to the Succession Laws should get the approval of these independent nations, whose parliaments will pass similar legislation to change the succession.

The changes which appear minor to us Filipinos and other non-Brits, have immense constitutional implications for the Commonwealth and the UK. The Monarch in England has a religious role

as clearly seen in this historic video of the present Queen's coronation in 1953 in Westminster Abbey. She is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and her coronation was within the context of the Anglican Eucharistic celebration. Obviously she should be a communicant of this church. She may worship at nearby Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral (which she has done on special occasions upon the invitation of the Cardinal Archbishop), but she still has to be a member of the Established Church. History gives us an example. Low churchy Queen Victoria was not amused by Anglican panoply and she preferred the Scottish Kirk instead.

The Cameron succession proposals require amendments to what the BBC says a "raft of legislation" which essentially forms the backbone of Britain's unwritten constitution. Cameron however insists  that the amendments won't dispense the Monarch from being required to be formally Anglican.

Which raises some practical issues. In families with mixed religious traditions, the children by convention are raised in the faith of the mother. However the Roman Catholic Church goes even further. The Roman Catholic Church requires that upon marriage, the couple agree to raise the children as Roman Catholics whether the man or woman is the Catholic party. In many cases things do work out. I do know of friends who are married to non-Catholics and the children alternately on Sundays go to Protestant church and then to Catholic church. One famous Filipino ex-secretary of health and later senator had the solution "If we wake up early enough on Sundays, we go to the 6 AM mass and if not, we go to the 9 AM service".

Usually when the children come of age, they are free to choose their religious affiliation. It may not be the affiliation of their parents! However most kids are not destined to be King or Queen (except perhaps of their tiny condo unit!) and they won't have any problems in running their little realms in terms of religion. The only problem they will have is paying the bills which the British royals never had to worry much about, at least the Queen!

In the case of the children of the Anglican Monarch married to a Catholic consort, what Church would the would the heir apparent affiliate? If the royal family were to respect Catholic sensibilities, then the heir should be Catholic and he/she would have to change religion upon succeeding the departed Monarch.

Thus the Cameron proposal really affects the whole raison d' etre of the Anglican establishment. The British and the Commonwealth will have to know what the reasons are, whether these are for the right reasons and not just for short term political gain as many critics have written. Things will be made easier if Cameron insisted on disestablishing the Church of England. But that would make the whole constitutional house of cards fall for the status of the Monarch is what holds it all together as one Catholic blogger has it The reason is that the whole constitutional arrangements of the UK are premised on the Monarchy having a religious character. In short the British Monarchy is the last  institution of religious significance in Britain if not in Europe, excepting the Papacy of course. Europe has become aggressively secular and this is not of the humanistic kind. There is an increasing concern that Christianity is being persecuted in Britain. For example Roman Catholic adoption agencies may face fines since in conscience they cannot leave orphans to care for by same sex couples.

Roman Catholics are divided on Cameron's proposals. While the proposals appear to end the last legal liability in England for Roman Catholics, some Catholics are wary. Many recognize that the Established Church fosters and witnesses for the Faith which even the present Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster accepts.

While these constitutional proposals for Britain seem to be remote for Filipinos, we have to remember that we inherited our charter of liberties from the English (from the same laws Cameron's parliament want amended) through the Americans in their Bill of Rights. The civil liberties we enjoy were a product of English struggles in the 16th century. As Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his speech to the British establishment in Westminster Hall in September 2010

"This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good."

And the Pope continued

" By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy."

" I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life."

The Pope is saying that all these liberties are possible since the state recognizes the sovereignty of God.

And I pose the question, if the secularists succeed deleting references to God in our Constitution, will our nation fall apart like a house of cards? It will. Like England the identity of the Philippine nation is rooted in a religious tradition, predominantly but not exclusively Christian.

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