All 1 Debates between Baroness Flather and Lord Bishop of Guildford

Succession to the Crown Bill

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Bishop of Guildford
Wednesday 13th March 2013

(11 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords, somewhat surprisingly, I will speak to this amendment. This is my adopted country, and I have much enjoyed living in it. I would not want to live in any other country, including my country of origin. One reason why I like living here is the ethos and the atmosphere, which are very much due to the Anglican Church. I totally support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, because if we had a Catholic heir to the Throne, that ethos and the kind of attitude that now prevails would change.

We also have to remember that the Anglican Church came about through reformation. Reformation means reforming something. If your Lordships are prepared to think about it, the Catholic Church is in dire need of reformation at this moment. There are so many things that people object to. Certainly, the treatment of women in the Catholic Church, especially in developing countries, is not acceptable. Catholics have great influence in Africa, although there are not that many Catholics there. Children are born even if there is no food for them, and people cannot use contraception. We are living in a world that is going round and round in circles. The biggest elephant in the room is population, and yet the Catholic Church is not willing to accept that this cannot go on for ever.

To have a Catholic heir to the Throne of this country would mean that this country would not be the same as we know it. It would certainly change totally, and I would not want it to change in that way. I want this country to grow and to evolve, not to change into a Catholic country.

Lord Bishop of Guildford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Guildford
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My Lords, my contribution to the debate on the amendment in the name of my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will be somewhat technical, because I speak as one who has been much involved in the official Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue since 1974. From time to time the Roman Catholic position on the children of so-called mixed marriages has arisen, and has been discussed in some detail, including the work of a special commission on that subject. I also declare an interest as a patron of the Association of Interchurch Families, and I have some modest understanding of both Anglican and Roman Catholic canon law.

The Government, through the Minister and in other ways, have very fairly, in my considered judgment, set out accurately the Roman Catholic position. We are also helped by the Archbishop of Westminster’s statement in this respect. According to Roman Catholic canon law, giving permission for a so-called mixed marriage is not a Vatican matter but one for what is called the local Ordinary: that is, the local bishop.

At the risk of a little canonical history, I must draw your Lordships’ attention to three documents and practice. In the old rules of the Roman Catholic Church on this subject, in the shape of the Code of Canon Law of 1917, the position was rigid and, I would say, harsh. This is no longer the case. The present code of 1983 speaks of “permission”, not “dispensation”. The old code also required the non-Catholic party in a marriage to promise that the children would be brought up as Roman Catholics. No such promise is required today. The Roman Catholic partner is asked to declare that they will do all in their power to ensure that any children are brought up as Roman Catholics, yet no sanction is applied to the canon, whereas the old code made the bishop’s dispensation for a mixed marriage dependent on the bishop’s moral certainty about the Catholic upbringing of the children. This is not the case now.

I will also touch briefly on practice in a more pragmatic way. Permissions for mixed marriages have been given even where it was foreseen that the promise could not be fulfilled in whole or in part. In making these points, I rely not only on my own past discussions of these questions over many years with officials, bishops, theologians and canonists of the Roman Catholic Church but on the authoritative interpretation of present Roman Catholic canon law offered in a magisterial commentary of no less that 1,952 pages published in 2000 by the Canon Law Society of America. It is the standard textbook in the English-speaking world.

Interestingly, on the question of the upbringing of children in these circumstances, the Roman Catholic canon lawyers quote the official Vatican ecumenical directory of 1993, which clearly indicates that the promise may not be expected to be completely fulfilled, or fulfilled at all, in every case. It states that a Roman Catholic partner can ecumenically fulfil their obligations as a faithful Catholic, short of insisting on the Roman Catholic formation of the children, because the unity of the marriage is more important. The Vatican document, quoted by the canon lawyers, speaks of the Catholic partner as,

“playing an active part in contributing to the Christian atmosphere of the home; doing all that is possible by word and example to enable the other members of the family to appreciate the specific values of the Catholic tradition; taking whatever steps are necessary to be informed about his own faith so as to be able to explain and discuss it with them”,

and–—this is the important bit ecumenically—

“praying with the family for the grace of Christian unity as the Lord wills it”.

In my judgment, this officially bears out the Government’s assurance that the Roman Catholic rules are not a block to the smooth functioning of the proposed succession rules.

I acknowledge that we are all conscious of the importance of avoiding all ambiguity for the future. I think that that ambiguity prompted a number of the amendments that we will debate today. Whether an assurance is given in the Bill, or whether it can be given now by the Minister or at a further stage of the Bill’s proceedings, I am sure that your Lordships’ House would wish all such possible ambiguity to be avoided for the future in the matter of the royal succession.