Britain’s papal paradox

Martin Kettle had a good article in the Guardian the other day on the contradictions exposed by the British reaction to the Pope’s death.

Until very recently the mere idea that a prime minister or the head of the Anglican church might have any kind of dialogue with Rome – never mind rearrange the next Protestant king’s wedding to suit the cardinals in Rome – would have been regarded as close to treason. Catholicism, in its time, was as anathema to the British state as communism was in a later era. Five centuries ago we broke with Rome so that a king could remarry. Today our re-embrace of Rome means that a future king’s remarriage has to be postponed.

As Kettle points out there is something of a contradiction between the gesture of respect implied by postponing the royal wedding, and the fact that the monarch is still barred from marrying a Catholic.

If there is one over-arching lesson for Britain from the swirling political, religious and constitutional issues of the moment it is surely that we need a new Act of Settlement, one which defines the proper spheres and relationships of the crown, the government, the parliament, the judiciary, the component peoples and their faiths in 21st- rather than 18th-century terms.

Actually, I think this is doing a dis-service to the 18th Century, which also produced principles of secular enlightenment republicanism, which would serve present-day Britain very well.






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