Does It Matter Whether Catherine Is Protestant?

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
2nd May 2011

Tagged: church and state government monarchy protestantism roman catholicism

Related:

Return to the articles index.



The Royal wedding has raised, once again, the debate about Australia’s relationship to the British Monarchy.

In the media this week, particular attention has been drawn to the 18th century British Act of Settlement that requires the monarch to be a Protestant.  One republican lawyer claimed “the rules of succession continue to reflect centuries-old prejudice and hatred towards Catholics.” Another called the Act of Settlement “a blood-curdling anti-Catholic rant that enshrines Protestant religious beliefs in the succession to the throne.”

Without entering into the republican/monarchy debate, this concern is irrelevant for Australia. There are aspects of the British Monarchy that may affect our nation but the religious commitment of the monarch is not one of them.

Australia, unlike England, has no state church. The Queen’s representative in Australia does not have to belong to any particular church. The first Australian Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs was, as his name indicates, Jewish. Being a Roman Catholic is no bar to being a Governor General. I recall no controversy, or even much mention, over the appointment of the Roman Catholic Sir William Deane.

Our culture and nation have been heavily shaped by Britain. But there are significant differences between us. Religious denominationalism is just one such difference. To Australian ears the eclusion of somebody from public office on the grounds of beliefs, sounds like unfair religious discrimination. And in Australia it would be, but not so in England with a state church.

The rules of the British monarch’s succession is a question of the loyalty to the nation. A similar debate has recently been aroused over the issue of Mr Obama’s birth certificate. The President of the United States must be a ‘natural-born’ citizen of America, thus their constitution discriminates against all migrants. Our Constitution also discriminates against people who hold foreign citizenship (including British citizenship) from election to Parliament.

But the sticking point on loyalty is religion. The suggestion is commonly made that people with strong religious views are not fit for public office or commenting in the public square. Whenever a Roman Catholic politician consults with church leaders, journalists draw the inference that the politician is under undue influence from their Church. And it’s not only the Roman Catholics who have this criticism levelled against them, for anti-religious zealots treat anybody who holds a particular religious view with similar suspicion.

To the atheistic secularist, government is sacred. It’s the “progressives” means of enlightening, saving and engineering life. Anybody who has a loyalty beyond the State is suspect. Sadly, this reduces politicians to popularists or tyrants. In Australia we have popularist leaders who follow polls and focus groups, thinking only in the short-term to hold onto power. In other nations they have self-interested tyrants whose highest loyalty is to themselves whom they serve as god. National loyalty is required of national leaders but “My nation right or wrong” leads to the dreadful corruption of morality that calls things “un-Australian”. In 1872 an American politician added: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” He could see that truth and morality, justice and integrity go beyond national loyalty. But how can a country ‘be set right’ without some moral reference point outside the country? Such virtues stem, like it or not, from our religious views.

So what religious views do we want from our leaders? In a political democracy of a multi-cultural society, the religious views of the leader are judged at the ballot box. Sometimes this is done tribally “I’m not voting for a Baptist (or atheist or Bible Basher or Muslim)” but today Australians are voting less by religious tribe and more by political performance.

Yet still we need to elect leaders who recognize and live by a moral code to which they are answerable. As parliamentarians create legislation, this code has to be more than accepting the rule of law. The moral character and fibre of a candidate, including their religious profession and personal life, directly affect how they rule. Amoral or immoral technocrats can be exceedingly dangerous because of their ability to get the wrong things done.

But what of the Royal Family? Democracy differs from monarchy in that ‘family’ not ‘performance’ is central to their appointment and reign. In a democracy, the politician’s family life is just one consideration, while in a monarchy it is the consideration. It’s therefore critical to know of the loyalty of the royal family. Any question of loyalty to another country or to an outside government would make the role impossible. This is true especially if the child raising practice were to be determined by the foreign power. The child that inherits the crown must be raised with an undivided loyalty to the nation they will one day reign over. If the monarch marries a Roman Catholic, the church requires the children to be raised as Roman Catholics – thus compromising the heir’s loyalty to England.

So what is to be done about the monarch’s religious loyalty?   The English answer is the national church. The loyalty to the nation is not compromised by religion in a national church, especially the national church, which is answerable to the people through parliament. Centuries of political interference persuaded England’s parliament to resist Rome. The royal family is to be ‘Protestant’ for the monarch is head of the Church of England and a member of the Church of Scotland - an Episcopalian in England and a Presbyterian in Scotland. This is possible within Protestantism, where loyalty to Christ is expressed in a subsidiary loyalty to your local church rather than being a member of a foreign-based denomination that claims to be the Catholic/Universal church ruled by the Vicar of Christ.

The British Parliament’s requirement for royal heirs to marry Protestants is like the Australian requirement to be a citizen to sit in Parliament or the American requirement to be a natural born citizen to be the President. It’s a way of constituting national loyalty.