Anthony Kilmister on recent discussions about possible changes to the laws of succession and the effect it might have on the Church of England

The probability of a revision of the laws governing succession to the throne have made me sit up and take notice for the monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Slowly, quietly and largely behind closed doors politicians and civil servants are working away devising possible changes.

Mark Harper MP, the Minister at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall who is responsible for political and constitutional reform, in a letter (of which a fellow MP of his has sent me a copy) has written inter alia: ‘These provisions in the Act of Settlement are an explicit and unique discrimination against the Roman Catholic religion and one we feel is unacceptable in this day and age’.


Despite being a Government Minister Mr Harper’s strength of feeling may be understandable for he is a Roman Catholic himself. However, he employs strange ‘human rights’ type language and refers to the Roman Catholic religion. Yet surely Anglicans and Roman Catholics share the same religion but differ in their interpretation of it and in matters of jurisdiction. As for jurisdiction, however, let us not forget the Papal Bull of February 1570 Regnans in Excelsis which remains in force today and which claims the Pope has the power to authorize or depose a monarch as ruler – including our own! Of course Mr Harper has not, as yet or to my knowledge, described this as unacceptable discrimination against Anglicans.

At the Perth Prime Minister’s Conference in Australia in October 2011 involving the 53 countries of the Commonwealth Mr Cameron (without, it seems, having thought it throughforhimself) atafringemeeting ‘bounced’ representatives of the fifteen other monarch-sharing countries into considering changes in the Laws of Succession. An Ad hoc committee has been created based in Wellington with a no doubt admirable New Zealand civil servant, Miss Rebecca Kitteridge, in charge of its semi-secret work. Will the sixteen parliaments be expected to ‘nod through’ what this group in Wellington eventually decide upon? We do not know what legal advice they are receiving nor from where. What if there is a minority of Commonwealth parliaments taking one view and a majority taking the other? What readers of New Directions need to realize is that a hornet’s nest is in the process of being over-turned.

Political correctness

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953 her subjects and citizens numbered roughly five hundred and forty millions. She had become Supreme Governor of the Church of England, yet was Queen to millions of believers of other faiths. Her coronation in the Abbey was witnessed by foreign diplomats, by Russian Communists, by atheists, by Muslims and by Christians of other denominations. They did not object to the vows she was taking. Surely the objections being voiced half a century later by politicians and civil servants are an exercise in ‘political correctness’.

Side-stepping difficulties

The Queen has welcomed the visits to the UK of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and she herself has attended a Roman Catholic service at Westminster Cathedral. The Roman Catholic Church has the goodwill of the overwhelming majority of thinking Englishmen and, that being so, parliamentarians, however well intentioned, should not seek to fan old flames.

To some extent I am glad to read in the letter from Mr Harper, here on my desk, where he says: ‘We do not propose to change the requirement that the Sovereign be a communicant Anglican. It would have serious implications for the future establishment of the Church of England to have someone not in communion with the Anglican Church as its Supreme Governor. The Government does not intend to legislate to disestablish the Church of England.’

The difficulty that Mr Harper appears to side-step is that while he sees the present position as discriminatory he does not say how it could be possible for a Roman Catholic to become King or Queen of this country and to be in communion with a Church whose very existence his Church denies. Nor can one overlook the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Apostolicae Curae which in 1896 declared Anglican Orders to be null and void. This remains in force to this day. In the same way the more recent Papal declaration of August 2000 Dominus Jesus dismisses the Anglican Church as not being a Church ‘in the proper sense’.

An up-hill task

As a Roman Catholic Mr Harper can be forgiven for wanting his Church to enjoy a greater exposure to public view but so can the Church of England be forgiven for emphasizing in the words of Canon A1: ‘The Church of England, established according to the laws of this realm under the Queen’s Majesty, belongs to the true and apostolic Church of Christ, and, as our duty to the said Church of England requires, we do constitute and ordain that no member thereof shall be at liberty to maintain or hold the contrary.’

Miss Kitteridge and her committee will have an up-hill task to find a means of having both the penny and the bun. Received wisdom indicates ‘Leave well alone’ – or, if a Latin tag is preferred, ‘Quieta non movere’. ND