The Act of Settlement
Early in December The Guardian newspaper began a campaign to make the United Kingdom a republic. The first object in its sights was the Act of Settlement of 1701, which was brought in to prevent a Roman Catholic monarch ever again sitting on the British throne following the disastrous experience of the recent past.
The Scottish Nationalist Party have tabled a motion in the Westminster parliament calling for repeal of the Act. They claim this is part of their fight against religious discrimination in our constitution. But since when did Rome forswear religious discrimination? Even supposing the British monarch was to marry a Roman Catholic, the children of that union would have to be brought up as Roman Catholics. This is, to put it mildly, obviously unsatisfactory.
At the moment, the UK Government, while sympathetic to repeal of the Act, is emphasising the difficulties involved: a large number of other UK Acts would have to be amended and all the other members of the Commonwealth would have to agree. There is the further difficulty that the monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England and repeal of the Act of Settlement would require disestablishment of the Church. The Church’s constitutional position at present is far from perfect, but to interfere with it is likely only to make the situation worse. The biggest danger is that a bandwagon may be set rolling in favour of repeal which in the course of time may become unstoppable.
Our Protestant heritage is no longer valued, and often those who attack it are unthinking politicians attempting to further their own interests. A little more understanding of history and of the nature of the whole Roman system would surely encourage politicians to leave this Act firmly in place.
First Minister’s Visit to the Pope
The visit to the Roman pontiff by Scottish First Minister, Mr Henry McLeish, has been hailed by the media as historic, and by Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of Roman Catholicism in Scotland, as “full of significance”. It is also regarded by some Roman Catholics as the beginning of a new relationship between the Roman Church and the state. Cardinal Winning himself spoke of it as a “sign of a new era of co-operation”.
Whatever significance, if any, may be attached to it, there is no disputing the higher profile being given by the media to Scottish Roman Catholicism and its leader. During Mr McLeish’s visit to Rome, Cardinal Winning was emphasising how far the “Catholic community” in Scotland has come since “the Scottish Parliament outlawed the Catholic Church”.
In 1560, the Scottish Parliament did indeed abolish Popery and proscribe the Roman mass (which it rightly regarded as idolatry) when it established Protestantism as the national religion. “Our Reformers, however,” says Thomas M’Crie, in his History of the Scottish Church, “had no idea of converting their creed into a penal code, or of punishing all who departed from it as heretics. They regarded Papists as enemies to the state, and the leading principles of Popery as subversive of all good order in society.” There is no doubt that these leading principles still undergird and motivate the Roman system today.
Apparent Backtracking by the Pope
It would seem to some that the Pope has gone back somewhat on that part of the recent Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus which stated that other Christian faiths were “gravely deficient” as a means of salvation and that only the Roman Catholic Church possesses the “fulness of grace and truth”.
The Daily Telegraph summarises, in its own words, the Pope’s new position: “Heaven is open to all as long as they are good”. The Pope declared that “all the just on earth, including those who ignore Christ and his Church” were “called upon to build the Kingdom of God”.
Having examined the Telegraph report and also a fuller report given out by a Roman Catholic agency, we see that the Pope’s words are riddled with ambiguities and have in no way disannulled the papal dogma that the only way to salvation is through the Church of Rome.
Adopting non-Christian Rites
Commenting on its advances in the first Christian millennium, American theologian W G T Shedd wrote, “The Papal Church once sought to make Christianity a universal religion by adopting pagan rites and ceremonies”. And Rome has never lost its willingness to incorporate non-Christian elements into its teachings and ceremonies. Recently The Daily Telegraph has reported how, at the start of mass, a South African priest “enters his church in a riot of singing, kneels reverentially before wooden busts and invokes the spirits of the African ancestors”.
Another report spoke of how a Roman “Catholic archbishop in South Africa has called for animal sacrifice to be incorporated into church services. The demand is part of an attempt by radical black priests of the African Catholic Priests Solidarity Movement to push forward the so-called ‘inculturation’ of the Church in South Africa . . . . In one recent incident at a township church near Pretoria, a video recording was made of a priest blessing chickens and goats during mass. The animals were then slaughtered and their sacrificial blood poured into a hole dug outside the church. . . .
“In his plea for the introduction of animal sacrifice, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Bloemfontein has made the most controversial move yet. . . . He said: ‘Animal sacrifice . . . is celebrated in almost all African families. We have kept it out of the Church of God for too long. It is time we welcomed it openly into the Christian family of the living and the dead.’
“In a papal document drawn up at the close of the African synod in Rome in 1995, the idea of integrating indigenous religious practices was cautiously welcomed by the Vatican. But the Pope stressed that the process must be compatible with ‘the Christian message and communion with the universal Church’.” The fact is that the process cannot be compatible with the Christian message. But then a very great deal of Rome’s teaching has never been compatible with the Christian message. Some things never change.