Repeal Anti-Catholic Section of Act of Settlement 1701

Posted By: October 21, 2005

Repeal Anti-Catholic Section of Act of Settlement 1701.

Some answers and explanations

Fr. Sean Mc Manus
Friday, October 21, 2005

Our campaign to force the British Government and the Queen of
England to repeal the sectarian and anti-Catholic section of The Act
of Settlement, 1701, has evoked a considerable response. (To
remind our readers: that provision mandates that the heir to the
British Crown must be Protestant and that if he/she becomes
Catholic, or marries a Catholic, then he/she must forfeit the Throne,
and — I kid you not — “the people are absolved of their allegiance”
So if the universally esteemed Queen Elizabeth 11 felt conscience-
bound to convert to Catholicism, she would have to renounce the
Thrones and, yes that’s right, we are speaking of today, 2005, not

The reactions to our campaign can be broken into three categories:
(1) Irish-Americans sympathetic to equality, justice and peace in
Ireland; (2) supporters of the sectarian and anti-Catholic provision;
and (3) those who want to dismiss the whole issue as irrelevant.

(1) Irish-Americans sympathetic to equality, justice and peace in

Some Irish-Americans are amazed that such a law still exists in
modern British society (many, of course, know of it as the Irish
National Caucus first launched its campaign about this way back in
1980). But the reaction of some, at first, is to laugh at the silliness of
such a law, until they reflect that it would be similar to the US
Constitution having a provision to outlaw an African-American
becoming president or marrying a Black person. And, if the
president were to marry a Black person, his/her election would be
declared null and void by the constitution.

And then they realize just how much such a racist law would have
fanned the fires of white racism in the United States, providing
justification and affirmation to White racists, segregationists, the
White Citizens Councils and the Ku Klux Klan? (* See note blow on
the KKK). Now never mind the non sequitur that some have raised,
namely, that in fact it would have been — granting the attitude and
the demographics — impossible in the past for a Black person to
have become president, anyway. That is not the point. The point is
that it would have been absolutely abhorrent to have such a racist
provision in the Constitution — and only the whacko and racist
American would defend it.

(2) Supporters of the sectarian and anti-Catholic provision.

(a) Some have raised the issue of Ne Temere, the Papal Decree of
1908.Here it should be pointed out that there has been a change in
Catholic teaching, which I greatly welcome:” Although Catholics in a
mixed or interfaith marriage must still promise to do all they can to
raise the children Catholic, non-Catholics are no longer required to
make such a promise”(Marriage. Encyclopedia of Catholicism,
Harper Collins, New York. 1995, page 828).

But even if that section of Ne Temere were still in force it is simply
not comparable to the sectarian and anti-Catholic provision in the
Act of Settlement. Church law in a secular society, to state the
obvious, is not the law of the land. So, for example, if Catholic
President John F. Kennedy had divorced and remarried a Protestant,
he would not have been able to receive Holy Communion at Mass,
but he would not — for goodness sake — have been forced to resign
the Presidency. Church law is hugely different from a country’s

(b) Some have raised the issue that the Queen is not only head of
State, but also head of the Church of England. Well, for starters,
that is simply another reason why Church and State should be
separate, as in America. That was one of the great ideas of the
Founding Fathers, who were aware from their knowledge of the
English system how discriminatory and sectarian the concept and
practice of an Established Church is.

(3) Those who want to dismiss the whole issue as irrelevant.

No part of a “constitution” can be considered irrelevant. (I realize the
British do not have a written Constitution, which further means all
rights can be suspended). But if the anti-Catholic provision of the
Act of Settlement is irrelevant why not change it? Why oppose
change? And if it is not relevant, why is the Guardian Newspaper
leading a campaign to Repeal the sectarian and anti-Catholic
provision and why is it supported by the Attorney General of
England, 72 MPs and 35 peers, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
of England, Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland?

The sectarian anti-Catholic provision in the Act of Settlement may
not mean much to the average Englishman/woman in the street, but
it has always been of great importance to the extreme
Protestants/unionists/Orangemen of Northern Ireland. This provision
provides the “theological”, philosophical, political and cultural
“justification” for their belief that Catholics should not be treated as
equals. For you see, if the very top law in England, the Queen’s own
law, says Catholics can be discriminated against, then it’s okay to
discriminate against them in Northern Ireland. That’s the deadly

Dr Paisley, for instance, is on record of stressing that his allegiance
is not just to the British monarch but also to “Protestant succession
to the British throne”.

Furthermore, back in 1980 – before Prince Charles married Princess
Diana -there was speculation that he might marry a Catholic. So a
Protestant/Unionist/ Orange delegation was promptly dispatched
from Northern Ireland to London to ward off this calamitous
possibility. The Washington Star explained it in the following way:

“The row broke out over the week-end when militant Protestants
demanded that Prince Charles be barred from succeeding Queen
Elizabeth as sovereign if he marries a Roman Catholic. The
Protestants said they had raised the matter with the government and
insisted that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher promised them that
Charles will have to renounce his right to the throne if he marries
Marie-Astrid or any other Catholic.

We pointed out that we were most anxious that only a Protestant
would succeed and Mr. Atkins (then secretary of state for Northern
Ireland) gave us a guarantee that the present government would
never revoke the Act of Settlement – which would mean a
constitutional change in Parliament to allow a Catholic to become
either Queen or King”

(‘Protestants object to Charles ruling with Catholic wife’.
Washington Star. Monday July 7 1980).

A Call to all True Protestants

The tragedy of all this is that true Protestantism is supposed to
stand for freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of
thought. I believe the Unionist/Orange extremists of Northern Ireland
need a good dose of true Protestantism — as, indeed, I believe every
good Catholic needs a good dose of true Protestantism. “Here I
stand, I can do no other”, as Martin Luther put it. These ecumenical
sentiments are particularly apt as Reformation Sunday (the Sunday
nearest October 31) is Sunday, October 30, 2005.

Cicero once said: “Fundamentum iustitiae est fides” (the foundation
of justice is good faith). I call on all good Protestants to show their
good faith and join the Irish National Caucus in calling for the
abolition of the sectarian and anti-Catholic section of the Act of

But remember, the buck stops with the British Government and the
Queen of England — it was not the Orangemen who passed the Act
of Settlement, 1701

LBJ’s words of Wisdom

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting
Rights Act (which, coupled with the Civil Rights Act 1964, did for
African-Americans, morally speaking, what the Good Friday
Agreement did for Catholics in Northern Ireland). To his fellow
southerners, the president made a memorable plea, which to some
degree is applicable to the Protestants/Unionists/Orangemen of
Northern Ireland( although I know it has been said that ” every
parallel limps” and that ” all comparisons are odious”) : ” It is
difficult to fight for freedom. But I also know how difficult it can be to
bend long years of habit and custom to grant it. There is no room for
injustice anywhere in the American mansion. But there is always
room for understanding toward those who see the old ways
crumbling. And to them today I say simply this: It must come. It is
right that it should come. And when it has, you will find that a
burden has been lifted from your shoulders too.

It is not just a question of guilt, although there is that. It is that men
cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it”.

Let us all commit us to nonviolence, equality, justice and peace. Let
us work for justice and pray for peace in Ireland. God bless America
and God save Ireland.

* Note on Ku Klux Klan (KKK). It is important, here, to remember that
the three targets of the KKK are: Catholics, Jews and Blacks. ” The
modern Klan was revived in Atlanta, on October 16, 1915, by William
J. Simmons By the beginning of 1921, anti-Catholicism had emerged
as the most effective rallying cry”(Anti-Catholicism in America: the
last acceptable prejudice”. Mark S. Massa, S.J. The Crossroad
Publishing Company. New York. 2003).

Noted historian Arthur Schlesinger has termed anti-Catholicism as
“the deepest bias in the history of the American people”

Father Sean Mc Manus
Irish National Caucus
P.O. Box 15128
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C. 20003-0849