The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, who leads the 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords, tells The Sunday Telegraph that David Cameron’s policy to end Britain’s 300-year-old succession laws risks overturning the Church’s constitutional role.
Bishop Stevens also defended the bishops’ recent political opposition to several Government reforms and said that they were watching draft legislation carefully for measures that could disadvantage particularly poor or vulnerable people.
He argued that the Prime Minister’s plans to repeal the ban on the monarch being married to a Catholic posed a serious potential risk. Currently the Queen is required to take on the role of Supreme Governor of the Church of England — making it the established Church. But the bishops said that it would be impossible for a Catholic monarch to have that role.
Two observations seem warranted. First, if the Act of Settlement were changed to allow a Catholic to become monarch, the Church of England would be forced to come up with another reason for existence rather than its current position as established church. Might it have to become — perish the thought! — a confessional church? The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion would do just fine, I should think, but they might wish to consider the Heidelberg Catechism as well.
Second, if Britain moves to repeal or amend the Act of Settlement, the 15 other Commonwealth realms recognizing the Queen as head of state would have to follow suit. Here in Canada it would take a constitutional amendment to do the job, and this would require approval of both chambers of Parliament and all ten provincial legislatures under section 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982. If little Prince Edward Island were to object, the whole enterprise could be derailed and the Act of Settlement would remain. Either that or Canada could wind up with a resident Protestant monarch imported from England while the other Commonwealth realms end up with his or her Catholic relative, thereby breaking the personal union of the Commonwealth realms.
Unlikely? We shall see.