Thursday, January 10, 2013

Now Church attacks plan to change laws of succession: Senior bishops share same worries as Charles over 'rushed and risky' proposals

Monarch and clergy: The Queen with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams last year. The Church of England yesterday expressed deep concerns over plans to overturn centuries-old lawsThe Church of England yesterday expressed deep concerns over David Cameron’s plans to overturn centuries-old laws that govern succession to the throne.

Senior bishops share the worries of the Prince of Wales that legislation to give princesses equal rights to princes in line of succession is rushed, risky, and could lead to unintended constitutional crises.

Concern in the Church centres on the Prime Minister’s plan to remove the 312-year-old ban on members of the Royal Family from marrying Roman Catholics. 

Even though the Coalition’s Bill stipulates that the monarch must be Anglican, a Roman Catholic married to the monarch or an heir to the throne must, if they follow the doctrines of their church, bring his or her children up as Catholics.

That raises the prospect that an heir to the throne would be raised as a Catholic. 

Leading clergy believe the planned changes will bring confusion and complication to the historic rule that the King or Queen must be a member of the Church of England in order to become its Supreme Governor on  taking the throne. 

Reforms that undermine that principle threaten the established status of the Church and could ‘unpick the constitution’, they said. 

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said yesterday: ‘The reported concerns of the Prince of Wales need to be listened to very carefully. We must not have any ill-thought-through proposals because of the potential to upset a delicate constitutional balance. 

‘The Government’s instincts to allow female heirs to succeed are wholly right but to avoid any unintended consequences of the proposals for the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church there must be much greater consultation and discussion.’ 

Officials at Lambeth Palace, where the Right Reverend Justin Welby takes over as Archbishop of Canterbury next month, said there had been talks with ministers over the issue. 

They also pointed to remarks made by Dr Rowan Williams, who stepped down as Archbishop  last month, in a little-noticed interview with Vatican Radio late last year. 

In it Dr Williams said any heir to the throne would have to be raised in the Church of England – and not as a Catholic – which could pose problems if the child had a Catholic parent. 

Dr Williams said: ‘If we’re quite clear that, so long as the monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, there needs to be a clear understanding that the heir is brought up in that environment.’ Prince Charles is understood to have raised a series of questions over the impact of reforms on the constitutional relationship between church and State.

Mr Cameron’s reforms, drawn up under the supervision of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in a Succession to the Crown Bill, will remove the ancient rule of primogeniture that says boys take precedence over girls in line to the throne. 

The law is set to be fast-tracked through Parliament with minimal debate. It will mean that should the Duchess of Cambridge give birth to a daughter, she will have first claim to succeed to the throne, in preference to any son born later. 

The rules will also remove the requirement, dating to the Act of Settlement of 1701, that the heir to the throne and senior royals do not marry Roman Catholics. 

The law will, however, keep the Act’s paragraphs which say the monarch may not be a Catholic him or herself. 

The changes to allow a daughter of William and Kate to take the throne is widely popular, and Roman Catholics have long resented the anti-Catholic discrimination in the 18th century succession law. 

But the CofE leader in the House of Lords, Bishop of Leicester the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, has previously warned that the 26 bishops in the Upper House would vote against reforms. 

Dr Stevens said: ‘If the heir to the throne is brought up as a Catholic, and therefore, under the present disciplines of the Roman Catholic Church, is not able to be in communion with the Church of England, it effectively renders a Catholic heir incapable of being the Supreme Governor of the Church, so clearly that’s a more complicated issue than it appears at first sight.’ 

He added that any threat to the established status of the Church of England was something bishops ‘would have to resist’. 

The Church of England’s most important protestant faction, the Reform evangelical group, also indicated its unease yesterday. 

Its chairman, Plymouth vicar the Reverend Rod Thomas, said: ‘I would see a problem if a child was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church. That would threaten to unpick the constitution and unravel the whole basis on which our constitution has been built.’ 

The removal of the precedence of boys over girls in line to the throne threatens arguments and upheaval in other families where titles and inheritance are handed down by ancient hereditary principles. 

The reforms would throw a question over the inheritance rights of the Prince of Wales’ own Duchy of Cornwall, which is currently the automatic property of a male heir to the throne. 

A new law must therefore affect the Duchy of Cornwall and introduce equal rights for girls into its practices. 

But that leaves the question of whether more than 20 other dukedoms may also be compelled to follow the new system. 

The removal of the primogeniture law from the Royal succession leaves titled families exposed to legal challenge if they persist with the tradition of male inheritance. 

Families which do not opt to follow the new rules for the Royals could see their inheritance arrangements tested in the courts, with frustrated daughters and their descendants looking to win a greater share. 

A number of the most prominent aristocratic families may be involved in the process. 

Among those affected may be the Duke of Buccleuch, whose fortune is reckoned at £200million. 

The eldest child of Richard Scott, the 10th Duke, is a girl, 20-year-old Lady Louisa. David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland and owner of Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, has three daughters older than the male heir to the title. 

Lady Tamara Grosvenor, eldest daughter of the Duke of Westminster, the country’s wealthiest aristocrat, is married to Prince William’s friend Edward van Cutsem. 

She and her sister are both  older than the male heir to the dukedom.

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