24 April 2013

English Crowns, Mixed Marriages, and Canon Law

There has been a recent story in the English press on the question of the ability of a member of the Royal Family to marry a Catholic.  Currently, the law of England (the 1701 Act of Settlement) prohibits the ruling monarch of England from being a Catholic (or, to use the term of the Act, the "Popish Religion").  He may be Muslim or Jewish, Atheist or Agnostic, but he may never be Catholic.  In addition, the England's monarch may not even be married to a Catholic.  This requirement has blocked at least two members of the Royal Family from ever ascending to the throne.  From the website of the British Monarchy:
Two examples of members of the current Royal family being removed from the line of succession are that of The Earl of St. Andrews and HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who both lost the right of succession to the throne through marriage to Roman Catholics. Any children of these marriages remain in the succession provided that they are in communion with the Church of England.
Recently, the British Parliament has begun discussing amendments to the Act of Settlement.  Specifically, they plan to permit one who is married to a Catholic to ascend to the throne, although it will require that the monarch be in communion with the Church of England.

One of the issues that has been raised is the question of the Church's requirement that a child of Catholics be raised in the faith.  The English Episcopal Conference has apparently weighed in:

Church leaders have told the British Government that members of the royal family who marry Catholics under recently passed legislation will not be obliged to bring up their children in the Catholic faith.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness, speaking on behalf of the Government, said he had been assured personally by Msgr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, that the canonical requirement of Catholics to raise their children in the faith was not always binding.
“I have the specific consent of Msgr Stock to say that he was speaking on behalf of Archbishop Nichols as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and can inform the House that the view taken by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that, in the instance of mixed marriages, the approach of the Catholic Church is pastoral,” he said.
“It will always look to provide guidance that supports and strengthens the unity and indissolubility of the marriage. In this context the Catholic Church expects Catholic spouses to sincerely undertake to do all that they can to raise children in the Catholic Church. Where it has not been possible for the child of a mixed marriage to be brought up as a Catholic, the Catholic parent does not fall subject to the censure of canon law,” Lord Wallace continued.
But what does the law actually say?  The marriage of a Catholic to a Baptized non-Catholic is what the canons refer to as a "Mixed Marriage".  Such marriages are specifically prohibited by canon law (CIC 1124), unless a dispensation is given by the local ordinary.  Such dispensation is routinely given in the U.S. and, I assume, in England.  Note that this means that, under canon law, Catholics do not have the automatic right to marry non-Catholics.  Even if the granting of permission is routine, the Church warns against it, precisely because of the danger of defecting from the faith.  That is, if one believes that a relationship with God is the truest and best good, and that it is most perfectly found in the Catholic faith, then the natural goods of marriage can never outweigh the supernatural good of adhering to one's Catholic faith.

For this reason, before permitting a mixed marriage the Church requires that Catholic party to do two things:

  1. To declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and
  2. To make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.
In the prior law, promises also had to be made by the non-Catholic party.  This is no longer true, and the non-Catholic party must merely be informed of the promises that the Catholic party makes.

The canons allow the various Episcopal Conferences to determine how these obligations are fulfilled.  However, in doing so, the canons are quite clear that the declaration and promise are, nonetheless, "always required".  (CIC 1126)  These are required, and my not be dispensed by the Bishop.

What about the statement that the Catholic parent who allows his child to be brought up non-Catholic is not subject to censure?  This also is untrue.  The Code of Canon Law provides quite specifically:
Parents, and those taking the place of parents, who hand over their children to be baptized or brought up in a non-Catholic religion, are to be punished with a censure or other just penalty. (CIC 1366)
In other words, any Catholic parent--whether married to an heir to the British Throne or to a footman--is obliged in morals and in law to raise his children as Catholic.  Now, the Bishop might decide not to pursue the matter--and most bishops do not--as a matter of prudence.  Nonetheless, those who violate the law on this still remain subject to an ecclesiastical penalty for violating the law.  The statements of Msgr. Stock to the contrary are morally and legally incorrect.