I am surpised that such a renowned parliamentary stalwart as Mr St John-Stevas so easily glosses over the most important problem of all in his speculations (May 27) on the subject of a marriage between a Catholic and an heir to the British Throne.
Because we have had a Parliament longer than other countries, it is not surprising to find that the question of the relationship between Parliament and Crown, on the one hand, and the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, has always been a tricky one even before the Reformation.) To cut a long story short, a Catholic Sovereign would be bound to accept the view that natural law is universally binding and cannot be changed by any human agency.
As long as Britain is a parliamentary democracy. whose laws are determined by Parliament and enforced in the name of the Sovereign, a constitutional crisis would arise if any future king or queen of England were to refuse to assent to legislation formulated in Parliament on such subjects as abortion and birth control on the grounds that such legislation is in conflict with the universal demands of natural law as interpreted by the Church of Rome.
Of course, Mr St John-Stevas takes the view that it would be important to raise royal children as anything but Anglicans; but that would still leave open the possibility that the children of a Catholic consort would eventually turn to the Church of Rome.
It is also possible that a point could be reached fit which every heir to the Throne in adulthood could have accepted the Catholic Faith.
Leaving aside our ecumenical pipe-dreams and our present ecclesiastical loyalties, it is surely necessary to raise the question of whether a Catholic Sovereign (a) should have the right to frustrate the wishes of a properly constituted parliamentary democracy; or (b) should be placed in the unenviable position of having to refuse the Royal Assent to any legislation held by the Church
of Rome to be at variance with natural law (thereby causing a constitutional crisis) or of having to act in a manner which would be unacceptual to his/her Church given the fact that natural law is both universal and unalterable and admits of no valid dispensation.
I would hardly expect Mr St John-Stevas to endorse (a). How unenviable (b) can be has recently been demonstrated in the Netherlands by the recurring difficulties of Mr Van Agt, the Minister of Justice in the last Dutch Cabinet, with respect to the question of abortion. During the last election campaign, he actually stated that the reason why he did not plan to resign rather than sign the law passed by the "House of Commons" permitting a level of abortion unacceptable to him as a Catholic was the following: by remaining in office he could prevent the law coming into force by refusing to sign it. (Actually, the law was not accepted by the second chamber in the Dutch Parliament, so this plan was not put into operation.) It is precisely to prevent such a situation arising in England that Catholics are still excluded by law from the Crown—not for any reason connected with vindictiveness or the refusal to be "ecumenical".
(Rev Dr) Peter Staples University of Utrecht,