A Bill 'to remove remaining legislative discrimination against Catholics'
Cranmer is fully aware that this cause is shared by some of his communicants, who also wish to repeal the Act of Settlement 1701. In his speech to move the Bill, Mr Gummer states variously that the Act is ‘insulting’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘intolerable’, ‘shameful’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘unacceptable', and ‘insidious’.
And he further states that Roman Catholics are ‘the largest worshipping community in this country’. He conveniently fragments Protestantism into its manifold denominations for his statistical purposes, and he also argues for the Roman Catholic Church to have ecclesiastical and legal parity with the Church of England.
He explains for us all what he understands to be the manifest evil. He says: ‘We must go back beyond that and consider what discrimination is about. Discrimination is about saying, "I am better than you are because my views are right and your views are wrong." It is the opposite of toleration.’ Yet, interestingly, he refers to Scientology as being ‘intellectually difficult and religiously rubbish’, which doesn’t, to Cranmer, sound much like tolerance. He equates this ‘religion’ with his own Roman Catholicism, which is ‘intellectually difficult and religiously correct’. So that’s alright then; nothing subjective in that assertion at all. Mr Gummer even appealed to the personal faith of the Speaker (who is the first Roman Catholic to hold the post since the Reformation), which is a murky muddying of the office bearer with the office if ever there was one.
Mr Gummer’s grasp of the British Constitution is alarmingly superficial. Cranmer has covered the vast complexities of this before, and this explains why the Prime Minister has not even entertained the possibility of amendment, let alone repeal. But it might assist Mr Gummer if he consulted the teachings of his own church in order to be better informed of the constitutional implications for politicians and any potential Roman Catholic monarch.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his previous incarnation as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published in 2003 an illuminating document, entitled: ‘Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life’. This sets out quite clearly how the ‘Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals’. When one considers that the Roman Catholic Church perceives itself to be sole interpreter of these morals, and the sole educator of that formative conscience, it is easy to see how repeal of the Act begins to imperil the status of the Monarch as head of State.
The document also states: ‘For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the church - but not from that of morality - is a value that has been attained and recognised by the Catholic Church and belongs to the inheritance of contemporary civilization’. Some ethical principles, however, are ‘non-negotiable’ because they form part of a ‘true and solid foundation’. This foundation is ‘Christian moral and social teaching’, of which the Pope is not only the guardian and advocate, but also creator. Those Roman Catholics who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose' any law that attacks human life. The document states: ‘For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.’ Basically, Roman Catholic politicians are ordered to obey the Pope. This is not some medieval notion; it was reiterated in the 21st century. When one moves the doctrine of ‘infallibility’ into declarations on faith and morals, those liberties which were acquired for us by our Protestant forebears rapidly begin to fade away.
Cranmer does not negate the responsibility of Christians to ‘contend for the faith’, but the Protestant way to do this is from the bottom up; by a politician’s conscience being seared by the Lord, and by him having direct access to God. When a politician’s duties are articulated and codified in such a document, with all the implicit anathemas in cases of failure or rejection of those duties, the top-down nature of Roman Catholicism is seen to be antithetical not only to our Protestant religious tradition, but also to our laws and customs which have developed over centuries.
Rome’s religio-political saint par excellence is Thomas More, because, ‘although subjected to various forms of psychological pressure, Saint Thomas More refused to compromise, never forsaking the constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions which distinguished him; he taught by his life and his death that man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality’. God forbid that John Gummer should see too much of himself reflected in his appointed role model.