So here we are again, with another discussion about Catholics and the royal family. We have been here before, each time some royal falls in love with a Catholic, or even when royal marriages in general are discussed.
This time it’s a bit different: There is no specific royal eyeing the aisle with a Catholic in mind. But a Member of Parliament, Dr. Evan Harris, has announced his intention to introduce legislation to amend the law that currently states that no Catholic can ever marry the heir to the throne; that Catholics can only marry other members of the royal family with the monarch’s consent; and that said royal spouse loses his/her place in the line of succession as soon as the marriage takes place.
Of course the law is unjust, and we all know that. But the Private Member’s Bill being put forward by Harris, as presented, does more than change the law about Catholics: It abolishes male primogeniture in the royal line — which may or may not be a good thing, but has some repercussions worth discussing first. Why should the line of succession be changed in the royal family but not elsewhere? What exactly is wrong with a line of succession going through males? Why, for that matter, do children take their father’s name? Should it be made illegal to do so? Why is Harris trying to change things? Is he really so anxious that Princess Anne should draw nearer to the throne? Why, particularly? In what way can this really be seen as urgent?
Harris is the leading promoter of abortion and euthanasia in parliament, nicknamed "Dr. Death" even by his supporters because he is so dedicated to the cause. Why is he suddenly appearing to campaign for something that Catholics do not particularly want or need? None of us lies awake at night worrying that our nieces can’t marry Prince William, but we do worry — a great deal — about people being deliberately killed in our hospices and hospitals, and about babies being aborted on a massive scale, and scary unethical experiments being carried out on human embryos in laboratories.
I have taken part in radio debates with Harris, and his fanatical opposition to the whole Christian view of human beings and their place in the natural world is, to put it mildly, worrying. Just why he wants to get the law changed relating to the royal family is anyone’s guess, but mine would be that he’s keen on using up parliamentary time and a private member’s privilege that might otherwise have been used to achieve legislation blocking euthanasia or giving a tiny bit of protection to unborn children, or to teenagers currently bombarded with pressure to have abortions and to engage in sordid sexual antics — and he’s simply gleeful at the notion of posing as the hero-spokesman for the Catholic community.
If the situation warranted it — if, say, HRH Prince William did meet a suitable Catholic girl — a law could be whisked through Parliament to achieve a marriage without any of Harris’s baggage attached. The mood in the country now would emphatically be on William’s side: Several Catholics have married into the royal family in recent years, and the absurdity of the law is made more apparent each time. The latest ridiculous nonsense was over Autumn Kelly, who renounced her faith in order that her husband, Peter Philips, could become king — once eleven of his nearest and dearest had died. (Pure Macbeth! One wonders what plans they have made . . .) Everyone knows the anti-Catholic law is a nonsense.
Poor Harris is a sad case.
He really does have a fervent enthusiasm for things that most people recognize to be deeply wrong: aborting babies, healthy or otherwise; ensuring the speedy demise of the gravely and permanently ill or injured; carrying out experiments on human embryos aimed not at the embryos’ survival or health but their destruction after use.
There are many injustices against Catholics — and against other Christians and Jews — that ought to be amended. Chief among these is the pressure on our schools: The present government is trying to insist that Catholic, Church of England, and Jewish schools be blocked from interviewing parents and choosing pupils who belong to a particular faith and show evidence of seeking schooling within that specific believing community. Instead, the schools must take a certain proportion of children from other beliefs or none — only the intervention of the Catholic bishops stopped the enforcement of a rigid quota backed by the full penalty of the law — thus making it difficult for the school to maintain its religious practices and ethos. Where non-believing parents chose to announce that their child was offended, or suffered discrimination, because of the nature of the beliefs being taught or celebrated in the school, there could be penalties for the school concerned.
We’d like something done about this, please, Dr. Harris. We’d like an assurance that when discussing baptism, Mass attendance, and family commitment to Church beliefs and practices, the government gets its sticky hands out of our business. We seek the freedom to live as Catholics and run schools without government interference on the religious side. We don’t mind — indeed, we have helped to frame — a certain cooperation with public authorities on all sorts of aspects of school life, ranging from ensuring decent lavatories to use of public funds for providing essential structures and staff. But what we really need is simply the right, as British people, to live and pray and teach as Catholics.
And while we’re at it, we’d also like a legal assurance that children will not be forced into attending sessions of sexually explicit propaganda masquerading as "sex education," that Catholic agencies working in adoption and foster care won’t be forced to send children to homosexual couples, and that there will be freedom to discuss these matters and to preach and teach the fullness of Catholic sexual ethics without falling foul of the law.
The loyalty of Catholics to the crown is deep: It includes not only the genuine affection for the queen that is shared by the nation at large, but also a recognition of the ancient Catholic roots of our royal traditions, which meshes with our understanding of the central importance of family, and with our grasp of the importance of human beings living in a community with neighborly duties and a sense of common purpose. We pray for the queen on important royal occasions; we have her picture hanging in many of our schools; we loved it when she came to Westminster Cathedral. Of course we’d like if it Prince William married some delightful Catholic girl — prayerful, knowledgeable about her faith, committed to a life of joyful Christian service to the country. And we can see, along with everyone else, the absurdity of a legal ban on such a possibility.
But in the absence of this happening, we aren’t too bothered and will live happily with some other suitable bride. Please, Dr. Harris, leave us alone. We’ll cope. In the meantime, stop pushing the killing of unborn babies and supporting unjust schemes to meddle in Catholic schools and institutions.
Joanna Bogle is an author and broadcaster living in London