The Archbishop of Westminster issued the following statement:
“I welcome the decision of Her Majesty's Government to give heirs to the throne the freedom to marry a Catholic without being removed from the line of succession. This will eliminate a point of unjust discrimination against Catholics and will be welcomed not only by Catholics but far more widely.”
“At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today.”
On the face of it this seems like progress. But I'm not so sure.
The Archbishop's statement contains within it the problem: can a monarch marry a Catholic and still take an oath to uphold the Protestant religion? Will the Catholic consort be dispensed by the Catholic Church from the obligations required by Canon Law under normal circumstances in a mixed marriage:
Can. 1125 The local ordinary can grant a permission of this kind [i.e. for a Catholic to marry a baptised non-Catholic] if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions have been 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 so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
2/ the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;
3/ both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude.
It is obvious that any children would have to be brought up in the Church of England since they would have a place in the line of succession and would be potential monarchs who would have to pledge to uphold the Protestant Religion. The establishment of the Church of England depends on this.
Any member of the Royal Family who converted to Catholicism would still have to renounce his/her right to the throne.
I happen to have a high regard for the Royal Family but I wonder if this attempt to make the Royal Family "relevant" will actually result in them becoming irrelevant and, eventually, to the disestablishment of the Church of England.
From the BBC:
On scrapping the ban on future monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, Mr Cameron said: "Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith."
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the elimination of the "unjust discrimination" against Catholics would be widely welcomed.
"At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the established church [the Church of England] in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today," he said.
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond also welcomed the lifting of the ban but said it was "deeply disappointing" that Roman Catholics were still unable to ascend to the throne.
"It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy," he said.
"It is a missed opportunity not to ensure equality of all faiths when it comes to the issue of who can be head of state."
Mr Salmond's observation also has its problems: if every Act passed by Parliament requires the monarch's signature to become law, would a Catholic monarch refuse to sign into law Acts that are contrary to the moral law? Or would they do a Juan Carlos?